The White Mosque: A Memoir

The White Mosque: A Memoir

by Sofia Samatar
The White Mosque: A Memoir

The White Mosque: A Memoir

by Sofia Samatar


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Winner of the Bernard J. Brommel Award for Biography & Memoir (Midland Authors Book Award)

Finalist for the PEN/Jean Stein Book Award

A historical tapestry of border-crossing travelers, of students, wanderers, martyrs and invaders, The White Mosque is a memoiristic, prismatic record of a journey through Uzbekistan and of the strange shifts, encounters, and accidents that combine to create an identity

In the late nineteenth century, a group of German-speaking Mennonites traveled from Russia into Central Asia, where their charismatic leader predicted Christ would return.

Over a century later, Sofia Samatar joins a tour following their path, fascinated not by the hardships of their journey, but by its aftermath: the establishment of a small Christian village in the Muslim Khanate of Khiva. Named Ak Metchet, “The White Mosque,” after the Mennonites’ whitewashed church, the village lasted for fifty years.

In pursuit of this curious history, Samatar discovers a variety of characters whose lives intersect around the ancient Silk Road, from a fifteenth-century astronomer-king, to an intrepid Swiss woman traveler of the 1930s, to the first Uzbek photographer, and explores such topics as Central Asian cinema, Mennonite martyrs, and Samatar’s own complex upbringing as the daughter of a Swiss-Mennonite and a Somali-Muslim, raised as a Mennonite of color in America.

A secular pilgrimage to a lost village and a near-forgotten history, The White Mosque traces the porous and ever-expanding borders of identity, asking: How do we enter the stories of others? And how, out of the tissue of life, with its weird incidents, buried archives, and startling connections, does a person construct a self?

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781646220977
Publisher: Catapult
Publication date: 10/25/2022
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 1,122,621
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

SOFIA SAMATAR is the author of the novels A Stranger in Olondria and The Winged Histories, the short story collection, Tender, and Monster Portraits, a collaboration with her brother, the artist Del Samatar. Sofia’s work has received the William L. Crawford Award, the Astounding Award for Best New Writer, the British Fantasy Award, and the World Fantasy Award. She has also been a finalist for the Locus Award, the Hugo Award, the Nebula Award, and the Italo Calvino Prize. Her work has appeared in several year’s-best anthologies, including The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy. Sofia holds a PhD in African Languages and Literature from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and she currently teaches African literature, Arabic literature in translation, world literature, and speculative fiction at James Madison University.

Table of Contents

Part 1 Wanderers

1 Tashkent-a more dazzling vision 3

Begin with the glow


Beautiful error

The implausible story

A magpie existence

Corrective (Un)homelike


2 The Hunger Steppe-to transform the world into signs 27

The raven's claw

Shadows of earthly things

3 Samarkand-I have set before thee an open door 61

Ancient versus modern


Turkestan Album

The crows

How sweet you are, you hitter life!

The German sense of order

The missionary effect

These two drops

The place of hunger

Star catalogue

Part 2 Home-ache

4 Kok Ota-sad comedy of the border 89

Blue Grandfather

Eat this book

The Home in the East

The outsider comes in

The insider goes out

The taste of love

Who we are

5 Bukhara-safely to arrive at home 115


The ethnic ghost

The photograph

Cultural show

Alphabet of bone

Writing coming home

The supplicants

La vie immédiate

The dreamers

6 The Desert-the wall is no more, nor those who daubed it 151

Claas Epp syndrome

All or none Revisions

Elementary German homework

Other deserts, other endings

Interviews with converts

A few conclusions

Your stories, my elders

Apocalyptic Mirror



Paradoxes of martyrdom

Elizabeth's dragon

A swollen book

The words of departure

Part 3 The Place of Refuge

7 Khiva-all in a pale and ghostly light 205



Photography and the angels

Grandfather Lantern

The light thief

The lone curator

Everyone shines


I'm not local

Love story

8 Ak Metchet-the world didn't end 249

This is our valley

The historians

Love story (second draft)


The returnee

The leaky caravanserai

Stories of brown girlhood

9 Tashkent-a land gleams at us from afar 287

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