It’s not often we hear news from Kazakhstan, about it’s history we hear even less. Living life under Stalin’s rule was not easy for most people, definitely not for the nomads in Kazakhstan, but I can’t remember I’ve heard about their tough life before I read this book. The Silent Steppe by Mukhamet Shayakhmetov fills that gap for me, but of course only from one point of view, and for a brief moment. However, it’s a bit more than that.
I was really excited about reading this book, because I wanted to learn, hear, and take it all in. It’s a true story about a boy and his family of nomads on the steppe in central Asia. Their life depended on livestock that they were breeding and herding. The father of the family was sent to prison camp because he was seen as a betrayer, an enemy of his own class. What’s a family to do then?
The family ended up walking around the steppe, from place to place, living on charity from their family members, the ones they knew about, and new ones they found on the way. It is a story of a big population of the nation, people who have been wandering their country for generations, living their life the way they always had, being punished by Stalin’s regime. I find it important for the rest of the world to know what happened. It is only one of the hidden and forgotten true stories of people who have suffered, but at least we have this one book to turn to if we are looking for some answers.
I was surprised to find out how Islam had such a strong position on the steppe, but it’s interesting to find out that paganism is not totally forgotten either. No wonder that people aged faster back in the days. When you have experienced as much hardship and sorrow as the youngster nomads… well. I’m sure there are people like that out there, but when it’s a part of a nation that suffers as much, and it is pretty much kept hidden, it’s bad.
The story of Shayakhmetov and his people is important, but I did not feel caught up in the story. I really wanted to, but I didn’t. I tried to figure out what was wrong, wrong with me or the book, and I think I found the answer. Even though it’s a profound story, it somehow lacked something. It lacked emotions. It was more a history book than a memoir at times. I also think that translation and culture have their own fair share in me feeling like this. It just felt distant. It never got to a deep personal level, a level I expected to reach while reading this book.