The following is from an article written by Sian Glaessner in Steppe Five, p. 85, titled “An Introduction to Aitmatov’s Work.” It helps tell the colorful and historical background I often have to bring up in order to explain this interesting land of Kazakhstan only Glaessner does it in a more compact way.
“The Soviet conquest of Central Asia had been difficult, in many ways more problematic than that by the Tsarist army that had preceded it. Soviet rule in Central Asia sought to marry the USSR’s highly centralized, top-heavy bureaucracy with diverse, formerly nomadic cultures characterized in part by their complex and highly localized hierarchies. Living in what, for over 100 years, the Russians had seen as essentially frontier towns on the very edge of their mighty empire, in Central Asia people had a sense not only of their distant rules in St. Petersburg and later Moscow but also of the regional power base. The importance of the Silk Road had waned, but still lingered. In any of these regions, the sense of living on the periphery of an empire was in many ways dwarfed not just by the mountains and river valleys but also by the understanding that they lived in a strategic hub that had been as important for Alexander the Great as it would be again.”
I just finished reading the short story by Kyrgyz author Chingiz Aitmatov, titled Jamilia. It had been a hit in the USSR in 1957, one of his first works. He was born in 1928 and died last summer, a major literary icon of a man. I think one of the reasons Jamilia resonated so well with the Soviet people was they were able to see the souls of two young people fighting together against the abuses of the raw Soviet machine. The setting was in Central Asia with all the trappings of its Kyrgyz traditions but dealing somewhat reluctantly with Moscow’s authority while putting all their efforts into bringing grain in to feed the military during WWII. Little food was left for them. With all the menfolk gone to fight in the Great Patriotic War, it was left to women and children to carry on the work of men. Until one wounded soldier returned to the village where Jamilia had everything, house and family and a promising future, until Daniyar started singing…
The following is an excerpt that shows a beautiful, lyrical rendering of the English translation from Russian of the book written by Chingiz Aitmatov:
‘Daniyar, I’ve come, I came of my own accord,’ she said softly.
All was silence. A bold of lightening slid down the sky noiselessly.
‘Are you cross? Are you very angry?’
Silence again, then the faint splash of a clod of soil slipping into the water.
‘It isn’t really my fault,’ she whispered. ‘Nor yours.’
Thunder rumbled far over the hills. Jamilia was plainly silhouetted in a flash of lightening. She glanced round and dropped down beside him, her shoulders heaving convulsively in his arms. She stretched out on the hay and pressed against him.
A broken wind rushed in from the steppe, whirled the straw about, buffeted a dilapidated tent that stood outside the shed and spun off like a crazy top down the road. Once again there came a dry crash of thunder breaking overhead and blue flashes piercing the storm clouds; it was both terrifying and exciting – the storm was bearing down on us, the last storm of the summer.
‘Surely you didn’t think I would swap him for you?’ she whispered hoarsely. ‘No, no, no. He never loved me, he even sent his regards as a postscript. I don’t need his tardy love and I don’t care what people say. My lonely darling, I’ll never let you go. I’ve loved you for so long. Even when I did not know I loved you, I was waiting for you, and you came as if you knew I was waiting.’
‘Jamiliam, Jamaltai,’ murmured Daniyar, calling her by the tenderest Kazakh and Kirgiz names. ‘Turn round and let me gaze into your eyes.’
What is so strange about this book is that it shows the brokenness in families and relationships as a result of the Soviet rule and the Great Patriotic War. All families of the former Soviet Union were negatively impacted by this in some way or another. I need to find other books by this great author in our university library, titles such as: Farewell, Gyulsary; The Spotted Dog Runs Along the Shore; The Day Lasts More than a Hundred Years; The Ascent of Mount Fuji; and The White Ship. I wonder what other Central Asian literary giants are out there whose books are written in Russian but need to be translated into English for people the likes of me.