Kyrgyzstan: Life in the Mountains of Wilderness

For some reason the country of Kyrgyzstan fascinates me. When I think of Kyrgyzstan I see vast wilderness, rough trails in the mountains, and humble people before my eyes. I have never read a book from there before, so I was quite excited to read The White Steamship by Chinghiz Aitmatov.  I have not heard of other authors from the country, so at first I was a bit skeptical of finding a single book translated. However, it turns out that Aitmatov has been translated into quite a few languages!

The book apparently shocked some people in the 1970s in the Soviet Union, because it wasn’t a story about how great the Soviet is, how the men are made of steel, and nothing can take them down. The book is set north of the big Issyk Kul lake, in the mountains (try to found a place in Kyrgyzstan without mountain outside the capital area…). Quite happy to read about the mountains and wilderness in a country filled with mountains and wilderness, instead of a book set in the capital.

An eight-year-old boy lives with his grandfather and step-grandmother, because he was abandoned by his parents. He does not feel loved, and he longs to get a away. Life is quite brutal for a little boy, but it tells the reader a story about how hard life was in the Soviet. Stalin’s brutal regime is disguised as the boy’s neighbour, uncle Orozkul, who is also beating his wife. The boy’s grandfather strongly believes in old traditions. The grandfather tells the boy many stories and legends, the most memorable for the boy are the stories about wild animals.

The boy himself dreams of becoming a fish so that he could swim across the lake to get to a white ship, where his father is supposed to work as a sailor. I can understand that this book must have been different from others in the beginning of the 70s. Harsh nature, brutality, weakness of men, and stories of strong and mythical animals, and mother nature was most likely not what men were supposed to read (or write) in Russia back then.

I like the setting, and the characters are nicely eccentric and set in their ways, which I like. I enjoyed the stories about wildlife and the wilderness surrounding everything and everyone. Somehow I just did not get a feeling of sympathy and closeness. I wonder if something might have been lost in translation or if it’s a cultural thing. Not a bad read, but it left me feeling like something was left out or the story was lacking something.

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