The Silent Minaret (Review)

Book cover for "The Silent Minaret" by Ishtiyaq Shukri.Title: The Silent Minaret

Author: Ishtiyaq Shukri

Publication Year: 2007

Pages: 248

Genre: Fiction

Source: Purchased from an independent bookstore in Hermanus, South Africa

From the cover:

Who knew Issa Shamsuddin?

Is his disappearance a matter of choice – the next step in a journey of self-imposed exile? Or are there more sinister forces at play?

Set in the Western Cape in the years leading up to South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994 and in the temporary bedsits and hookah cafes of post-September 11 London, Ishtiyaq Shukri’s first novel poses questions about what happens to belief when personal ideals are betrayed by world events.

A daring debut in both form and content, and a story that will leave you breathless, lingering long after you have turned the final pages.

I bought this book while on vacation, looking for a book by a local author. It also caught my attention because of the title and cover description, and that’s what won me over.

It took me a while to get around to finally reading The Silent Minaret, and I have to admit that it was a difficult read. For one, it was difficult because of the style of the narration itself. The point of view for the narration changes, and it sort of Danvers around the character of Issa; the reader never really gets to know him through his own voice. That’s the great mystery of the book – where is Issa and what happened? but it still makes it feel a bit confusing, and possibly a bit contrived.

The other part that is confusing is the Afrikaans words that are sprinkled throughout the text. The Arabic words used are always explained, always translated … but it seems to be assumed that the reader will understand the Afrikaans. Sadly for me, that is not the case, and sadly for the author, that makes the book less understandable to people outside of the South African market.

Other than those small concerns, though, I found The Silent Minaret quite interesting and out of the box compared to a lot of what I read. It had a similar, though still unique, character to its narrative form as compared to the other South African book I read (Hear Me Alone). It also had the distinct honor of being a book that takes an interesting point of view on characters of multiple backgrounds and turning them in on themselves and on the reader. For example, there’s a great sequence where Issa’s cose friend is thinking back on herself and on Issa. She tells his friend:

Now it makes me cringe to think that I, an Afrikaner, the victim of so much stereotyping, could have done the same to others. It makes me think of Afrikaners and Arabs as brethren. The last of the Mohicans. The two tribes it is still acceptable to denigrate and berate.

As an interesting aside, she also tells the friend about Issa’s bookish nature, in a quote that I absolutely adore and simply couldn’t leave out of this post:

He always had a book with him, was always reading. He even read about reading.

Listen to this, he once told her before reading aloud from the book in front of him: Reading is inevitably a complex, comparative process. A novel in particular, if it is not to be read reductively as an item of socio-political evidence, involves the reader with itself not only because of its writer’s skill but also because of other novels. All novels belong to a family, and any reader of novels is a reader of this complex family to which they all belong.

If that isn’t enough to get you hooked, then I give up. But if you’re looking for an interesting mystery story with a little bit of political intrigue and South African history and flavor mixed in, The Silent Minaret is the book to try!

This book is a part of the Ramadan Reading event happening here this month.

You can find other posts in the series by clicking on the image to the right, or by taking a look at the schedule of posts and reviews.

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