A valuable companion to Olufsen’s personal works is the two-volume Exploring Central Asia, by Esther Fihl (University of Washington, 2010). Partially a commentary on Olufsen’s travels, the work is largely a photographic tour of the museum artifacts Olufsen brought back to Denmark (see Olaf Olufsen Part I for more about the mission). A text box on page 140 (Vol. 1) contains an interesting account from his previously unpublished writings of how he acquired artifacts from the bazaar in Bukhara with the help of one of the emir’s men.
Exploring Central Asia contains numerous vibrant color photos of household items, clothes, shoes, ornaments, jewelry, accessories, tools, and so forth, from various regions. The captions for many of these include excerpts from Olufsen’s writings, both published and unpublished, describing their use or manner of acquisition. Fihl reports that Olufsen was instructed not to return with worn or cast off items ( p. 138). Accordingly, many of the artifacts are gorgeously decorated and in excellent condition, especially considering they are more than one hundred years old (of course, they have spent their entire lives in a museum). Thus, they may not be representative of articles of everyday use, but they at least give one an idea of some of the handicrafts in circulation at the time. Continue reading
The title page of Ole Olufsen’s book identifies him as Professor and Secretary to the Royal Danish Geographical Society. He commanded Danish expeditions to Central Asia in 1896-97 and 1898-99. His personal account of these travels, The Emir of Bokhara and His Country, is one of the more readable and detailed volumes of its kind that I have perused. (See previous posts on 19th- and early 20th-century Central Asia travelogues.)
While exhibiting the Eurocentric biases exhibited by virtually all Western travelers of his time (OK–let’s be honest–we’re all a bit biased, even in these enlightened times!), Olufsen displays extensive knowledge of the area and gives evidence of having read all the relevant literature available in his day, dating back to ancient times. He possesses an impressive command of the topography and appears to have traversed much of it, though I’m not able to weigh in on his geographical accuracy. The edition of The Emir of Bokhara that I perused (William Heinemann, 1911) claimed to include a map, but I never located one (see part II of this post for more on that). Continue reading
Part I of this review deals primarily with Bukhara, the counterpart to this 1993 volume by Garnet Publishing (UK).Vitaly Naumkin is identified as the series editor and Andrei G. Nedvetsky as co-compiler and archive researcher.1
I found the volume on Khiva slightly less interesting than that on Bukhara, partly because it is farther removed geographically from my personal area of interest, and partly because there are fewer photos overall (105, as compared to 163) and less commentary.
However, the circumstances under which the photographs in the first part of the Khiva album were taken provoke speculation. Russian Colonel N. Ignatieff was sent on a diplomatic mission in 1958 to sign commercial treaties with the governors of Khiva and Bukhara. A.S. Murenko was assigned to the party as photographer; he was later awarded a silver medal by the Russian geographical society for his photographs. Continue reading
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
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
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
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
We were hooked after reading the first chapter of The Piano Tuner by Daniel Mason during a one-night getaway to a B&B near Jacksonville, Oregon. We immediately put the book on reserve at the library, and once it came, Mason’s intriguing plot, tantalizing imagery, and mesmerizing style kept us turning the pages late into several nights. Ultimately, though, the book left us unsatisfied (warning: plot revelation ahead). Continue reading
I must have slept through the unit on the 19th century in high school World History. Until I read Peter Hopkirk’s The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia, I was woefully ignorant of the events that took place in Central Asia during that era, despite having lived in Pakistan for two years after college. Continue reading
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