05 Nov / Dancing in the Mosque: An Afghan Mother’s Letter to Her Son by Homeira Qaderi, translated by Zaman Stanizai [in Shelf Awareness]
During the 985 nights since she was cleaved from her then 19-month-old, still-breastfeeding son, Homeira Qaderi managed to escape her native Afghanistan and eventually settle in California. Her son, now 4, has been told his mother is dead. With this haunting memoir, Dancing in the Mosque: An Afghan Mother’s Letter to Her Son, Qaderi literally, indelibly writes the proof of her existence into being.
Despite a country, culture, family, and husband that each attempted her erasure, Qaderi rebelled at virtually every age. Her grandmother warned her “that one of the most difficult tasks that the Almighty can assign anyone is being a girl in Afghanistan.” As a child in Herat, she “didn’t want to be girl”; she was “too young and energetic to understand fear,” even as Soviet occupiers indiscriminately terrorized citizens. By the time Qaderi reached adolescence, the brutal Taliban replaced the Soviets, who left in 1989. She was denied an education because of her gender, yet refused to stop learning, risking her life to run a secret school not only for girls, but for boys and, eventually, even two young Talib men.
Qaderi’s family arranged her wedding at 17, allowing her to escape the fate of most teen girls – to be forcibly, miserably married to Taliban members. Accompanying her husband and family to Tehran proves to be a turning point: “In Afghanistan, a good woman was defined as a good mother. In Iran, a good woman could be an independent and educated woman.” Qaderi earns multiple degrees, with her husband’s encouragement, including her PhD, and finds her voice as a published author and activist. Returning to Kabul, she becomes that “good woman” when she gives birth to Siawash, but the “man’s world” that is Afghanistan transforms her husband into a cowardly oppressor who demands a second wife. Her refusal to accept his decrees results in divorce via a single text. Siawash was snatched from her arms as he slept.
Qaderi’s debut title is deftly translated by fellow Afghan professor and writer Zaman Stanizai. Her pleas to be heard are a rallying cry for lasting change: “It is my fondest wish, my son, that someday, somehow, this story I have told you about my life will help you and your children and your children’s children create and nurture a new Afghanistan.” Raw, honest, humble, Qaderi renders her excruciating loss into words and stories that help her live, keep her connected, and never lose hope for a miraculous reunion.
Shelf Talker: Living in exile in California thousands of miles from her only child, an Afghan mother claims her voice with the lasting hope that someday her words and stories will reach her precious son.