'Forgotten Songs' by Kader Abdolah

RNW archive

This article is part of the RNW archive. RNW is the former Radio Netherlands Worldwide or Wereldomroep, which was founded as the Dutch international public broadcaster in 1947. In 2011, the Dutch government decided to cut funding and shift RNW from the ministry of Education, Culture and Science to the ministry of Foreign Affairs. More information about RNW Media’s current activities can be found at https://www.rnw.org/about-rnw-media.

Kader Abdolah's contribution to Radio Books is a little different. He wants to show not only the beauty of the Persian language but also to keep alive Iran's rich cultural heritage for immigrants who've left their homeland.


Kader Abdolah arrived in the Netherlands as a political refugee in the late 1980s. By 2000 he had published his first Dutch novel and won one of the country's most prestigious literary awards. His uniqueness comes in creating a rich Dutch literary style from the poetic nature of his first language.

In 2008 Abdolah published a Dutch translation of the Qur’an and a book about the Prophet Muhammad called ‘The Messenger’ "I started writing a book on him, not as a holy prophet, but as a person, a leader,” the author explains. “I discovered a great man, someone with a dream, and with incredible drive. He took huge risks, loved life and viewed existence with poetic curiosity. That's how I wanted to show him, with all his ups and downs. He is one of the most wonderful people there's ever been."

Abdolah’s 2006 novel ‘The House of the Mosque’ was recently published by Canongate in an English translation by Susan Massotty who also translated his Radio Books contribution.

Disguised lullabies

'Forgotten Songs' is a series of Persian poems and songs which he describes as an integral part of any Iranian's existence.

"In the last 20 years, millions of immigrants have left everything behind and there's no turning back. They've fallen like apples from the boughs of their own culture. The winds of time rage on, making it impossible for them to return to the tree. So what do they do? The first generation clings to its songs, especially its lullabies, and makes an effort to pass them on. They solemnly hum them to their children. They also smuggle the unique poems of the masters, disguised as lullabies, into their children's sleep. It's as if their very lives depended on them, as if these melodies were the bread of life."

‘Forgotten Songs' is Kader Abdolah's attempt to keep these poems alive as the second and third generation of immigrants move even further away from their cultural heritage.

Here are two stanzas from two different poems by the great Persian master Hafez:

‘The scent of flowers no longer wafts my way,
And I no longer hear the nightingale sing'.

‘If I embrace your thoughts at night in bed,
At sunrise my bed smells of blooms, of you'.

'Forgotten Songs' by Kader Abdolah was translated into English by Susan Massotty. The story is read by Chris Chambers. The original Persian is read by Kader Abdolah himself.

The series Radio Books is an initiative of Flemish-Dutch Huis de Buren in Brussels, in association with the Flemish radio broadcaster Klara and Radio Netherlands Worldwide.