The White Mosque: A Silk Road Memoir

Posted in Asian Diaspora, Books, Forthcoming Media, Novels, Religion on 2022-09-13 01:54Z by Steven

The White Mosque: A Silk Road Memoir

Hurst Publishers
October 2022
304 pages
Hardback ISBN: 9781787388079

Sofia Samatar, Assistant Professor of English
James Madison University, Harrisonburg, Virginia

A rich history of wanderers, exiles and intruders. A haunting personal journey through Central Asia. An intimate reflection on mixed identity shaped by cultural crossings.

In the late 1800s, a group of German-speaking Mennonites fled Russia for Muslim Central Asia, to await Christ’s return.

Over a century later, Sofia Samatar traces their gruelling journey across desert and mountains, and its improbable fruit: a small Christian settlement inside the Khanate of Khiva. Named ‘The White Mosque’ after the Mennonites’ whitewashed church, the village—a community of peace, prophecy, music and martyrs—lasted fifty years.

Within this curious tale, Sofia discovers a tapestry of characters connected by the ancient Silk Road: a fifteenth-century astronomer-king; an intrepid Swiss woman traveller; the first Uzbek photographer; a free spirit of the Harlem Renaissance. Along the way, in a voice both warm and wise, she explores her own complex upbringing as an American Mennonite of colour, the daughter of a Swiss-American Christian and a Somali Muslim.

On this pilgrimage to a lost village and a near-forgotten history, Samatar traces the porous borders of identity and narrative. When you leave your tribe, what remains? How do we enter the stories of others? And how, out of life’s buried archives and startling connections, does a person construct a self?

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The Souls of Mixed Folk [Review: Samatar]

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, United States on 2012-02-07 02:00Z by Steven

The Souls of Mixed Folk [Review: Samatar]

Sofia Samatar
2012-02-05

Sofia Samatar

This book, by Stanford professor Michele Elam, comes at you with a provocative title and a provocative cover.

The title, a reference to the brilliant and still relevant 1903 book The Souls of Black Folk, by W.E.B. Du Bois, is provocative because it could be read as trivializing a classic of African-American literature and cultural theory. The cover, which shows an image of “Baby Halfie Brown Head” by artist Lezley Saar, is provocative because of the way it presents a mixed-race body as a creepy, freakish-looking doll.

If you are bothered by these things, you should keep reading Elam’s book. She explains very quickly that she doesn’t mean to trivialize Du Bois: her title comes from a frame in Nate Creekmore’s comic strip, Maintaining, and she chose it for a number of good reasons, among them a wish “to both evoke and unsettle expectations, to prepare the reader for examples of art, literature, comics, and drama that collectively reframe…conversations about the ‘spiritual strivings’ of mixed race people.” The disturbing doll on the cover is meant to play a similar role. Elam writes: “Politically incorrect in an age seeking to answer ever more earnestly the philosophical and democratic problem of ‘the one and the many,’ its body will not deliver the desired whole.”…

Read the entire review here.

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