Eden Book Club: The White Mosque Discussion
The White Mosque breaks free of the traditional travel memoir. It abandons any sense of linearity. It is, instead, a collection of thoughts, ideas, and feelings backdropped by Sofia Samatar’s Uzbekistan tour.
The White Mosque is creative and deeply introspective. If you like Bluets by Maggie Nelson and The Museum Of Whales You Will Never See by Kendra Greene, The White Mosque will (most likely) click with you.
Sofia Samatar unpacks a lot in The White Mosque. This is a story of identity, of belonging, of culture clashes, of deeply held beliefs. Samatar is sharp and attentive; she grasps onto little details and lets her observations bloom into reflective (albeit meandering) discourse. It’s not a style that will suit everyone (I’ve heard lots of mixed opinions), but that’s okay. We’re here to chat and have a good time.
Feel free to rant or rave about The White Mosque in the comments below. I look forward to hearing (and responding to) your thoughts!
Book Club Discussion Guidelines
Discussion posts (like this one) will have a series of questions as starting points. But honestly, you can talk about whatever you want regarding the books. You don’t have to answer all (or any) of the questions. I’d still love to hear your thoughts!
You can join in regardless of whether you’ve read, not read, or DNF’d the book! I understand that not everyone has the time to read or finish the book so I try to include a general discussion question as well to make the discussions more inclusive.
The White Mosque Discussion Questions
- What were your impressions of Mennonites before reading this book? Have your impressions changed? If yes, how so?
- How do you feel about the structure of this memoir? How do you feel about the prose?
- “And so I wished to go inside the church that was a mosque. Its simplicity. Its almost blinding pallor. The church crumbled decades ago. It no longer exists. A pilgrimage, then, to error, to ghosts, to the accidental, to the glow.” (pg. 9) What draws us to the trips we take? Why do we choose certain journeys over others?
- What do you think compelled Sofia Samatar to share her story?
- Why does the author use the phrase “magpie condition”? How do you feel about this phrase?
- Samatar touches on the complexity of the ethics of missionary work. How do you feel about this topic?
- How do you feel about the author’s initial views on photography? (pg. 218) Do they differ from your views on photography? Has her discourse shifted your views in any way?
- Were there any themes explored in The White Mosque that surprised you?
- How did the last line of the book make you feel? (pg. 303)
- Now that you’ve read the book, let’s go back to the question posed on the blurb. How do we enter the stories of others?
February 2023 Book Club Pick
Let me know your thoughts in the comments below! Of course, these are just starter questions. There are no right or wrong answers. Feel 100% free to discuss anything regarding the book (or otherwise). I’ll be jumping in and responding as well!
EmanuelJanuary 26, 2023 at 12:11 PM
What a material of un-ambiguity and preserveness of precious experience on the topic
of unpredicted feelings.
Vyas NellutlaJanuary 26, 2023 at 9:28 PM
I don’t think this book was for me. At times, I found the history interesting and some of the smilies thought-provoking, but I felt that the wasn’t a clear direction or objective with the book for me to stay captivated.
For me DNFE: Did Not Finish Eating
Vicky GonzalesJanuary 26, 2023 at 9:38 PM
Actually, I liked the meandering way that Sofia wrote her story. It’s like we are there with her, both experiencing the moments of discovery and in her mind with the various digressions of thought that come to mind.
Maybe I’m just speaking for myself, but I feel like we all have those wild thoughts as we are traveling, learning, or even just having fun! It’s really cool to see someone actually put it down on paper and let us into her journey.
Anshula VarmaJanuary 26, 2023 at 11:03 PM
It’s a very unique style that’s reflective of the contents of the book! I love the idea of the thoughts taking free reign and moving into the memoir as she moves through the journey. xx – Anshula
Anshula VarmaJanuary 26, 2023 at 11:01 PM
Oh my goodness, the eating books reference 😂
Jett AlexanderJanuary 26, 2023 at 9:53 PM
Q1. I didn’t know much about the Mennonites (to be honest, I thought they were the same as Amish) before reading this book, but this definitely gave me a much better idea of who they are and the murky origins of a peaceful faith group.
Q3. For me, it’s how many parts of my life/knowledge/experience that a trip can touch. If I can be present enough to see, taste, & smell, that’s a good start. But a remarkable one would relate to my childhood and leave me reflecting on the trip well into adulthood. I think Sofia’s trip (while not something I would feel like embarking on personally) is the perfect kind of trip touching on all of these aspects of herself.
Q5. I don’t like it, and I feel that the author is diminishing herself by calling her actions the result of a “magpie condition”. It reminds me of patriarchal standards that hold women and men to different standards. For example, had this been a man, it likely would’ve referred to them as spontaneous and free-spirited.
Anshula VarmaJanuary 26, 2023 at 11:09 PM
Love the idea of the trip being something tangible, something that forces you to reckon with a moment! It’s interesting how trips can carry so much meaning too.
That’s such a interesting perspective on the magpie condition. I like the way that Samatar describes the magpie condition on pg. 82. “The magpie condition, I realize suddenly, is not only about moving toward the apparently insignificant detail, it’s also about moving away from the main idea. It’s a mode of thought opposed to any central argument or thesis.” Samatar suggests that the magpie condition is something bigger and beyond herself. But I am curious if she would have felt comfortable calling herself free-spirited, even though this is a very free-spirited, fluid book reflective of a wanderer’s heart.
xx – Anshula 😊