Hamid Ismailov

translated from the Uzbek by Donald Rayfield
Tilted Axis 2021
A book review by Danny Yee © 2021
When his uncle Baisal dies, Bekesh leaves his city job as a radio presenter and returns to his isolated native village of Chekbel, inheriting Baisal's eagle, horse, and recordings — he had been a manaschi, a teller of the traditional Kyrgyz Manas epic. Along with his nephew Dapan, Bekesh takes up the traditional Kyrgyz life, training and flying eagles, riding horses and hunting, and exploring the Manas tradition.

Violence is never far away, however, whether it comes from a gyrfalcon being pitted against a fox or from a range of personal and social tensions. Chekbel consists of a Kyrgyz ayyl on one side of the stream and a Tajik kishlak on the other, with the complication that the former is in Tajikistan and the latter in Kyrgyzstan — and Bekesh himself is of mixed descent, his father Kyrgyz and his mother Tajik. Chinese workers have been brought in to dig a tunnel which will connect the village by road to Tajikistan, and anti-Chinese feeling is simmering. The divide between Islamists and traditionalists surfaces, and even some of the legacies of the Second World War and the Soviet Union.

All of this is viewed from a village perspective in which the outside world seems like a distant source of largely inexplicable forces; what matters is local and immediate or traditional and universal. Manaschi offers a vivid depiction of modern central Asian life, but one that undermines centralising narratives. It is episodic and interspersed with verses from the Manas — presumably reflecting Kyrgyz story-telling traditions, though Ismailov wrote it in Uzbek — but it maintains a good narrative flow.

November 2021

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%T Manaschi
%A Ismailov, Hamid
%M Uzbek
%F Rayfield, Donald
%I Tilted Axis
%D 2021
%O paperback
%G ISBN-13 9781911284574
%P 257pp