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Category Archive for 'Mongolia'

The speaker in this quotation, called “the man” throughout most of this novel, will repel every female reader – and most male readers – with his macho vulgarity, his unrelenting assessment of women in terms of their anatomy and sexual stamina, and his proud alcoholism. Boasting of his ability to consume seven bottles of vodka in his prime, he manages “only” two bottles a day on this trip to a new job site in construction in Mongolia. “The girl,” who has the great misfortune to be sharing a compartment with him on a trans-Siberian train traveling four thousand miles from Moscow to Ulan Bator, had hoped to be alone on this trip. Recovering from a personal crisis involving Mitka, a young friend on whom she had set her romantic sights but who is now hospitalized, the girl is making this trip almost as a memorial to him, since they had hoped to make the trip together. She had met him in Moscow in college, where she studied antiquities and anthropology for three years, and she is especially anxious to get to Mongolia now so that she can see the famous ancient petroglyphs there, some of them dating back to 12,000 B.C. So quiet and repressed that she makes only one or two statements during the entire trip, she is the complete opposite of Vadim, the man, with whom she has been fated to travel, destined to spend the trip fending off his advances. Considering the fact that neither of the main characters is one with whom the reader will identify to any great degree – Vadim because he is so disgustingly venal and the girl because she is so passive – author Liksom does a remarkable job of keeping the reader completely occupied during her novel. Vibrant pictures of life in the Soviet Union from the 1940s to the 1980s emerge as Vadim tells his life story in pieces throughout the trip, and the girl’s own life, though a bit confused and undirected, reflects some of the attitudes of young people and the reasons for her own lack of commitment.

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There are not many times when one can say that a novel – or series of autobiographical novels, in this case – is truly unique, something written from so personal and unusual a perspective that it becomes a completely new experience for the reader, yet Galsan Tschinag has succeeded in accomplishing this. Born into the nomadic Tuvan culture of Mongolia in 1944, Tschinag, like his parents and grandparents, grew up following the seasons with his sheep and yaks and living with his extended family in a collapsible yurt as part of a small community (ail) which moved from the mountains to the steppes and back so that the animals could feed. With the eyes and ears of a poet, Tschinag recreates his life in three volumes: The Blue Sky (2006), about his first eight years living with his family in their yurt in the Altai Mountains, shows his energy, his intelligence, and his sensitivity to the mysteries of life. His second novel, The Gray Earth (2010), continues his story as dramatic changes occur in the 1950s, not just to him and his family but to his culture and to all of Mongolia, as the Russians take over their lands and systematically subvert the local cultures and their beliefs in spiritual powers. The third novel, The White Mountain (scheduled for release in November, 2014), continues the life of the main character, Dshurukuwaa, as he completes school in Mongolia and is sent by the Russians to Leipzig, where he continues his education and eventually obtains his doctorate. Katharina Rout’s translation helps bring this novel to life and make each character feel like “one of us” on the human level, despite the obvious differences in culture. Powerful and enlightening.

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With a casual and natural curiosity about the mysteries of life, a young Tuvan boy from Mongolia muses about dreams in a quotation from The Blue Sky, clearly illustrating the aspects of this autobiographical novel which make it come alive so vibrantly for those of us who know nothing about his culture and are learning about it for the first time. Set in the 1940s, the novel recreates a time in which the old ways are the only ways for the Tuvan people, an isolated group of nomadic people living in the Altai Mountains of Mongolia on the Russian border. Using the point of view of Dshurukuwaa, the young Tuvan boy, the author tells a coming-of-age story which is clearly his personal story, as he observes the growth of the outside influences which are just beginning to affect his people. The boy is very much a little boy, always acting “in the minute,” reacting to daily events with all the passion of a child, and the author, Galsan Tschinag, is able to communicate the boy’s feelings to a foreign audience in ways which make the Tuvan culture both understandable and unforgettable.

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