[diary] 21 – kyrgyzstan

Salamatsyby everyone !

Today, I would like to take you on a far, far away trip : found totally by chance among my public library’s shelves, The White Steamship by Chinguiz Aitmatov has totally transported me to Kyrgyzstan (you know, that country between China and Kazakhstan). Full of environmentalism and traditions, this fable won me thanks to its original writing style, and allowed me to extremely easily dive into a very different culture. Well, come along !


In the high mountains of Kyrgyzstan, a little boy lives alone among a bunch of adults, with the only being who loves and protects him : his grandfather that no one respects in spite of his queer wisdom. To face this tough, irrational and unfair grown-up’s world, the boy buids himself havens shaped like legends… and brings us with him ! This read was such a trip, I am not sure I am even back now. Chinguiz Aitmatov, with great delicacy and simple words (a child’s words sometimes), tells us Kyrgyzstan in all its beauty : the mountains, forests and fields, the Yssik Koul (one on the biggest Asian lakes) and the icy streams, the snow storms and sizzling winds… The landscapes’ depictions are meticulous, the writing style easy to mind-represent, the nature omnipresent ; and on all of this rules the legendary Mother of the Mârals with the Great Antler (the mârals being a kind of deer), protector of the Bougou people to which belong the characters.

The picture is beautiful, refined, and the author’s style paints in imagination with forest-green and sky-blue colors. Idyllic ? It would be without including men who, as if to oppose to nature’s simplicity, are absurdely complicated and cruel. The hierarchy is clear in this small village : the little boy is deemed negligible by his clan, and the only one who cares for him is his grandpa Mômoun, deeply humble and abiding to the ancestral customs. But… he is not the one who rules the place, and is not even treated with due respect : the chief is his son-in-law Orozkoul – a highly despicable man whose every action is heinous (the worst ? everyone is okay with him abusing Mômoun or his wife, even the grandmother who just wants her husband to obey anyway – ah, just writing this, I feel like I am getting angry again !). Once and once only, Mômoun tries to rebel – and the consequences will be terrible.

Beyond its gorgeous background and descriptions, The White Steamship lets us discover a world in which humans, too proud, have forgotten to respect their environment… and don’t even pay for it at the end. Unfair, you say ? Of course, and here truly appears the talent of Chinguiz Aitmatov : I have been simply bowled over by the end of this book. Instead of punishing the bad guys (Orozkoul, who unapologetically violates every tradition and rule his ancestors set up), the author made his outcome even more impressing by inducing an implicit moral through striking pictures – pictures that I will personally keep in mind for a long time. The story goes crescendo until this conclusion, and is as formidably effective as simple. More like a contemplative account for most of the text, The White Steamship becomes upsetting in its last pages ; it deserves the read both for its message and the immersion it offers in the Kyrgyz culture. The representations of the village, the interactions between the characters, and another multiplicity of details (the passage of a travelling salesman, the observation of the lake by the boy, the meals…) lets us dive into Kyrgyzstan as if we have always been there ; everything extends and reinforce the feeling of being part of this windswept life , somewhere deep in the mountains. The boy himself tells us stories from time to time, sharing his dreams and the legend of the Mother of the Mârals.

I came out of The White Steamship a bit upset, I must say : between the stunning feeling of being back from a trip and the stunning end of the text, it has been a read filled with emotion. I keep from it the memory of a quite sad piece loaded with melancholy, and at the same time sometimes brutal and rough, of a story alternating intensely poetical landscapes and savage acts from Orozkoul and his henchmen. A true literary discovery, for a rare and impregnating piece that made me travel (and will make you do the same, I hope).

> The next review will be about Mines de cristal, by Oxmo Puccino.

> AITMATOV, Tchinguiz – Il fut un blanc navire, Libretto – translated from Russian by Lily Denis.
> written listening to “Hymne national de la République kirghize” .

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