Tag Archives: Soviet Union

Silk and Cotton: Textiles from the Central Asia that Was, by Susan Meller

Susan Meller’s books on Central Asian textiles are a rare find. Even if I weren’t researching a novel set in early twentieth-century Central Asia, the wealth of brilliant photos alone would be captivating. Since I am, Meller’s  coffee-table sized books provide a treasure trove of information not just on textiles but dress, trade,  agriculture, ethnic groups, and the impact of Russian colonization and the Soviet Union on all of these. Continue reading

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University of Oregon Course: Central Asia from Within

The Registan mosque in Samarkand, Uzbekistan

The Registan mosque in Samarkand, Uzbekistan

I’m excited to be able to offer a class on Central Asia at the University of Oregon from August 19 through September 6 (2-3:50 p.m., M-F). Yes, it’s short and intense, but those who enroll can anticipate stimulating daily discussions about an eventful period in history and the literature it produced.

In the last half of the 19th century, the Great Game contest for Central Asia was drawing to a close with Russia’s conquest of the present-day “-stans.” A new era was commencing for this region of ancient cultures and empires. Voices, both Russian and Central Asian, were calling for educational, social and religious reform. Continue reading

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The Day Lasts More than a Hundred Years, by Chingiz Aitmatov

Chingiz Aitmatov’s The Day Lasts More Than A Hundred Years is one of the few books by Central Asian authors translated into English. The original text was published in 1980 and the English version in 1988. Appropriate to the Soviet ideal of the “brotherhood of nations,” this volume by a Kazakh author was originally published in Russian and is set in Kirghizstan.

The principal setting of The Day is a railroad junction in the middle of the desert. The central conflict involves the quest of railroad worker Yedigei to give his deceased comrade Kazangap a traditional religious burial in an ancestral cemetery some distance from the junction. Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, Russian and American negotiators are dealing with the discovery that cosmonauts on the Soviet-American space station have been contacted by extraterrestrials and have departed the station for an interplanetary visit. Continue reading

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Land Beyond the River, by Monica Whitlock

Monica Whitlock’s Land Beyond the River is an informative journalistic description of the social and political developments in Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and Uzbekistan during the 20th century. We borrowed the book from the library but decided it would be worth owning because of its accounts of events difficult to find detailed in one place elsewhere, such as unrest and revolution in Bukhara in the second decade of the 20th century, the Tajik civil war and its resolution in the 1990s, and ongoing displacement of Tajiks due to war, forced migration, and other hardships. Continue reading

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Translation from Uzbekistan–The Railway

The Railway, by Uzbek author Hamid Ismailov, is one of the few contemporary Central Asian works translated into English. Alas, it is translated from Russian rather than Uzbek. Perhaps this is a hypocritical lamentation, coming as it does from a speaker of another colonial language. After all, the author is still Uzbek, writing in Russian, and, on one level, the story is presumably the same regardless of the source language. Furthermore, some might argue that Russian is equally the mother tongue of many Uzbeks these days. For that matter, Uzbek is only one of the languages of Uzbekistan. For speakers of minority languages, Uzbek could be a second language as much as Russian.

But it does seem that a book written in Uzbek would convey more of Uzbekistan’s ethos than one written in Russian. This raises the question, though, of whether this ethos can be carried over into an English translation. Perhaps, then, the original language doesn’t matter. Or perhaps writing in Russian about a primarily Uzbek setting already constitutes a translation; translating the Russian text into English introduces yet a further degree of removal from the source material. Some theorists maintain that any writing is an act of translation–translating events or ideas into words that will convey an image, idea, or feeling to other people. If this is the case, writing in Russian just magnifies this initial act of translation. Continue reading

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Central Asia Books

We frequently regret that the number of books in the world exceeds the time available for reading them. Even the count of volumes in English that we want to read is formidable, though significantly less. And, unlikely as it might seem considering their relative sparsity, we probably won’t even get around to reading all the good books in English on Central Asia. We recently discovered the four books below, each of which was, interestingly though perhaps irrelevantly, originally penned in a different language. Even though, for various reasons, we probably won’t read them anytime soon, we thought they might likewise have escaped the attention of others who share our interest in Central Asia and could profit from them. Continue reading

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Sadriddin Aini and The Sands of Oxus

Sadriddin Aini

It could be said that prior to Sadriddin Aini (1878-1954), the history of Tajik literature and the rich history of Persian literature, encompassing famous poets such as Firdawsi, Rumi, and Omar Khayyam, were one and the same. Mutually intelligible regional dialects of Persian existed alongside various minority languages throughout much of present-day Tajikistan, Iran, Afghanistan, and parts of Uzbekistan. But dramatic developments were about to give birth to a distinctive modern Tajik literature, of which Aini, a Tajik from a village in present-day Uzbekistan, is considered the father (Perry and Lehr 3). Continue reading

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Soul—Russian Writer on Central Asia

Rather than a novel about Central Asia, Soul seems, in reality, to be a mythic novel that happens to be set in Central Asia. Author Andrey Platonov (1899-1951) traveled to Turkmenistan in the 1930s; he was taken with the region and later set the action of this book there. Continue reading

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Everyday Islam–Soviet Anthropologist on Central Asia

Our principal reading material is fiction, with some creative (or occasionally uncreative) nonfiction thrown in to keep us feeling responsible and informed. Everday Islam is more of a reference book than “literature,” but we read it (individually) because it concerns one of our other significant interests–Central Asia, and more specifically, Tajikistan.

Everyday Islam is of interest in part because it represents the very Soviet views of a Communist Party member writing just after the breakup of the Soviet Union. Most books that get translated into English seem to reinforce our own perspective; it is from the dissidents of, for example, China, the former USSR, or Iran that we hear most often in the English-speaking world. Continue reading

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Tajik Folklorist’s Memoirs–Translation in Progress

Stories from the Land of Springs (Dushanbe, 1996) is the memoir of one of Tajikistan’s most prominent 20th-century folklorists. Rajab Amonov (1923-2002) describes his boyhood in the northern Tajikistan city of Uro Teppa. The book’s attraction lies in its both cultural and historic value. As a folklorist, Amonov details cultural practices still observable in many parts of Tajikistan. Written in the late 20th century, the account also discloses Amonov’s perspective on the changes that took place during the early years of the Soviet Union. Furthermore, Amonov knew the value of story, so his descriptions are couched in engaging narratives.

Click here to read the rest on the Birds’ Words blog: Translation in Progress

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