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
I usually am not fond of travel writing, but I found Christopher Kremmer’s work more interesting than some others of that genre that I have encountered. Kremmer’s wry wit accounts for at least part of the entertainment value of The Carpet Wars, even eliciting a few chuckles, a somewhat rare occurrence. (Don’t analyze that last statement–it isn’t meant to indicate anything except my appreciation of Kremmer’s humor.) For example, Kremmer (who does not otherwise give any indication of being particularly religious) relates an incident in which he became exceedingly frustrated with an Afghan taxi driver:
My hand was lifting, drawn up by the power of a psychotic urge to batter him, when suddenly a loud voice rent the sky above the stranded car:
‘Leave him to me!’ cried the voice of the Almighty. ‘For he is a driver and they are a stiff-necked people.’
So I heeded the word of the Lord and let him be (346). Continue reading
In our first post concerning A Thousand Splendid Suns, we discussed the story in A Thousand Splendid Suns. This time we want to consider some of the stylistic techniques that contribute to the popularity of Hosseini’s works.
Hosseini’s books are not adventure novels, but the action rarely flags. We are introduced to the main character (Mariam) and one of the central conflicts (her perceived rejection by the world) in the opening pages, and Hosseini rarely stops for sensory details or historical background. But that is not to say that Hosseini skimps on descriptions. He identifies salient points with such skill that he conjures up images and evokes character traits in a few powerful words, without slacking the pace of the plot. And rather than moving back and forth between narrative and description, he interweaves the two, so that the action only breaks off when Hosseini shifts the scene to heighten suspense. (Daniel Mason uses a similar technique in The Piano Tuner, when he relays historical background to the reader in the form of letters and articles read by the main character, so that reader and protagonist learn together.) (Warning: Plot revelations ahead) Continue reading
We read A Thousand Splendid Suns in two days while on a mini vacation. We had anticipated a grim story, and our expectations were fulfilled. But we stayed glued to the book, in part because of Hosseini’s gripping story telling and in part because, judging from the conclusion of The Kite Runner, we anticipated a glimmer of light at some point. It finally dawned, but it was a long time coming.
Due to the length of our review, we thought it best to avoid overtaxing our readers and discuss Hosseini’s latest release in two separate posts. This post is concerned primarily with the content and story of A Thousand Splendid Suns, while the next one will address stylistic matters. (Warning: plot revelations ahead.) 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
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
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
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