cover image The White Mosque: A Memoir

The White Mosque: A Memoir

Sofia Samatar. Catapult, $26 (336p) ISBN 978-1-64622-097-7

Sci-fi writer Samatar (The Winged Histories) strays from her imagined worlds to excavate a very real past in this fascinating look at her religious heritage. In the summer of 2016, the author—a descendant of Swiss-German Mennonites and Somali Muslims—traveled to Khiva, Uzbekistan, in a reconstruction of an 1880s pilgrimage wherein Mennonite minister Claas Epp Jr. led his followers from Russia into Central Asia, predicting that Christ would soon return. Over two weeks, Samatar, with a group of other Mennonites, traversed great distances and histories before arriving at their destination, Ak Metchet, a Mennonite church built to resemble a white mosque. What Samatar discovered within the walled garden of Ak Metchet was the story of a small but strong Christian community whose culture, traditions, and stories outlived their 50 years residing in the predominantly Muslim area. In evocative prose, Samatar captures the Odyssean sojourn and awakens the stories of the past—painting in harrowing detail the unspeakable horrors that befell the first settlers—while reckoning with her own identity, an “electrical storm” created by two religions perceived “as violently opposed... [yet] amplifying one another in a sizzling sibling rivalry.” Emerging from this is a vivid mosaic that interrogates the spirit of the faithful while celebrating the beauty of storytelling. This riveting meditation on the “great tides of history” yields a wondrous take on the ways the past and present intertwine. (Sept.)