[diary] 19 – mongolia

Sain bain uu everyone !

Here I am coming back to my one book | one country challenge, with the first read of my dedicated To Be Read pile for May : Dojnaa, by Galsan Tschinag. It took some time for me to write this review – mainly because I had a lot of auto-published books to read – but now, I am fully returned to international literature… and especially this time Mongolian literature, with this short novel that totally transported me out of my occidental perspectives.


For me who wants to get a glimpse of other cultures, Dojnaa was one of the best choices I could have made. Everything in this novel breathes otherness, and faraway. Galsan Tschinag presents to us the life of a young woman, from her youth (and her loveless marriage) to adulthood, telling also the birth of her children and her discovery of sex. Dojnaa is a pragmatic person, both uncomplicated in her reasoning and a bit more complex in her personnality : innately strong and independent, resolutely modern, she though complies without a word of protest to the patriarchal society she belongs to. In the first part of the text, the author alternates the points of view : we certainly follow the story of Dojnaa most of the time, but we also are presented with some passages from the standpoint of Doormak, her husband. For him, it is obvious that his wife, “his female”, should be and feel inferior to him : he wants her to fear him, to defend in honor as a male. For a feminist like me, this setting gave way to some unsettling and revolting moments, that however seem well implanted in the Mongolian culture.

But ! someday, Doormak leaves. From this point, the character of Dojnaa grows more and more developped, she asserts herself as a woman, as a mother, as a hunter too. Abused and oppressed for years by social rules, she gets free from this straightjacket and protects and feeds her household, undertaking the role that traditionally goes to men. She listens to herself at last, taking charge of her own destiny and of that of her family. This evolution, as interesting as it is, is yet described from a distance : the writing style of Galsan TSCHINAG is simple and factual, even when it is transcribing the thoughts of the characters, and I felt somehow “far” from the action (was it only because of the style or also because of the cultural gap ?). I hence couldn’t really attach myself to Dojnaa, and I had some trouble to understand her acts sometimes ; I followed her dailylife and her quite extraordinary adventures (she defends herself against abusers, hunts wolf and ram in the mountain, shows bravery and nerve…) without really feeling involved in it.

The thing I appreciated the most in this read is certainly the total immersion in these landscapes and social structure, so different from what we are used to. Quite neutral when it comes to depicting feelings, Galsan Tschinag offers some really beautiful sentences and descriptions, visual and poetic, letting us actually see the snow and the sky, the beasts and the yurts. Even if I didn’t exactly identified myself to Dojnaa, she is definitely worthy of respect, and the text as a whole is impregnated with a singular atmosphere, marked by ancestral customs. A brief read, sometimes raw, as authentic and natural as its protagonist, to travel for some pages to the timeless steppes of Mongolia.

> The next review will be about Archanges, by Velibor Čolić.

> TSCHINAG, Galsan – Dojnaa, L’esprit des péninsules – translated from German Dominique Petit and Françoise Toraille.
> written listening to “Mongol Ulsyn Töriin Duulal” .

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