Sunday, December 13, 2020

Kazakhstan: Contemporary Kazakh Literature: Prose

As I move further through this project, I find that the remaining countries become more and more difficult to source books from. So I was pleased when I saw this collection on our library's list of new acquistions a few months ago. "Contemporary Kazakh Literature: Prose" was commissioned by the Ministry of Culture and Sport of the Republic of Kazakhstan and published by the National Bureau of Translations in association with Cambridge University Press in 2019. That of course was the English translation, but it was published in total in 6 UN languages and 60,000 copies distributed to universities, libraries and research centres across 93 countries. Clearly this was a project which comes with an agenda - all the stories in the more than 600 pages reflect various aspects of Kazakh culture, mainly focusing on the conflict between the traditional nomadic and rural way of life with collectivisation under Soviet rule, and modern city life. Indeed, the preface stresses that this was the purpose behind the project, initiated by the first president of the republic of Kazakhstan. At first I found the stories blending into each other, with the settings similar enough that the same footnotes, explaining various items of vocabulary, repeated for each story - the "auyl" - traditional village unit - "zigit" - a young man of a certain age group, with leadership qualities more fully explained in the text, and so on. The similarity was probably enhanced by the arrangement in chronological order of the author's birthdate. There were very many by authors born in the 1940s. So I skipped towards the end and read some that were written by considerably younger authors. I also noted that almost all the authors, from a large number, were men, with only two female writers represented. Nevertheless in the more than 600 pages, there was enough variation to give a much better understanding of a country I had previously known little about. If more governments initiated such a project, the job of finding reading matter from the remaining countries on the list would be much easier.

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