First Impression Friday will be a meme where you talk about a book that you JUST STARTED! Maybe you’re only a chapter or two in, maybe a little farther. Based on this sampling of your current read, give a few impressions and predict what you’ll think by the end.
An extraordinary novel set in the vast windswept Central Asian steppes and the infinite reaches of galactic space. From elements of myth, history, realistic narrative, and science fiction, Chingiz Aitmatov has woven a rich tapestry that blends cosmic speculation with the age-old legends of the Asiatic steppes. This powerful tale offers a vivid view of the culture and values of the Soviet Union’s Central Asian peoples.
Chingiz Aitmatov, a leading Soviet writer from Kirghizia, is the author of Plakka (The Executioner’s Block) and the play, The Ascent of Mount Fuji.
Happy Friday everyone! Today is the last Friday of August. Oh wow. No wonder Jose Mari Chan’s pictures are filling my timeline now. For non-Filipinos, JMC is a balladeer renowned for his Christmas songs. He is akin to Mariah Carey (ala All I Want for Chrismas is You) as his Christmas songs have become synonymous with the season. With September looming, JMC has become ubiquitous. Just in case you are wondering, the Filipino Christmas season starts in September and runs until December, the so-called “ber” months. Radio stations and malls will start playing Christmas songs. Some will even start decorating. Anyway, with the year drawing to a close, I hope that your prayers have been answered and that you are being repaid for all the things that you have worked for in the past months. I hope you are doing well, in your body, mind, and spirit. Anyway, since it is the weekend, it’s time to ditch those work clothes and don more comfortable clothes. I hope you all enjoy the weekend and that you are able to rest well.
Before I can dive into the weekends, let me close this week with my last First Impression Friday update for August. Oh, how time flies! I still have quite a lot of reading goals I am hoping to hit this year. However, I have been making very little progress in most of them. I really do have to reorganize myself lest I won’t be hitting any of my goals this year. Anyway, for August, I have been reading works of Asian literature for I have recently realized how my venture into Asian literature is limited. I have always thought that I have read my fair share but, unfortunately, beyond Japanese literature, my foray into Asian literature is paltry at best. Asian literature is a vast sphere and in exploring other parts of the continent, I hope I get to learn more about its colorful cultures, diverse people, and history.
My last two reads took me to East Asia, to China and South Korea. My current read has now transported me to Central Asia. If my memory serves me right, this is my first time venturing into this part of the literary world. It was actually while going through an online bookseller’s catalog that I came across Kyrgyz writer Chingiz Aitmatov’s The Day Lasts More than a Hundred Years. I barely had any iota on what the book was about nor have I ever encountered Aitmatov. The sheer force of curiosity was overwhelming, hence, my acquisition of the book. I am thankful I did because it is transporting me to a new world. A couple of weeks ago, I listed works of Central Asian Literature I wanted to read. It made me realize how lacking my knowledge of this part of the literary world is. I can’t even name a single writer or book from this part of the world.
With this in mind, I resolved to include The Day Lasts More than a Hundred Years (Russian: И дольше века длится день,) in my August 2022 Asian Literature month. First published in 1980, the story was set in the Sarozek desert in Kazakhstan, at a railway junction called Boranly-Burannyi. At the junction, we learn about the death of Kazangap, a prominent figure in the junction which was home to a couple of families, the patriarchs of which are all working in the railway station. Kazangap was also the oldest and the wisest member of the group. Taking over the arrangements for his funeral was his friend, Burranyi Yedigei, who was also the novel’s central character. Kazangap had two children but they were no longer living with him. Sabitzhan was his only son and lived in the city. However, he did not care much about his father’s death or the funeral arrangements.
The story encompassed a single day as Yedigei led the funeral procession. To fulfill his friend’s wishes, Kazangap was going to be buried in the ancient cemetery called Ana-Beiit (“Mother’s Grave”). During the journey to the grave, Yedigei recounted his personal story. We learn that he once served as a soldier during the Second World War but he was dismissed from the service after suffering from shell shock. He was also a fisherman at the Aral Sea before he and his family moved to the junction. It was at the junction that he became fast friends with Kazangap. Other characters were also introduced. Among them was Abutalip Kuttybaev. Abutalip also served during the war but was seen as a traitor after he was taken as a prisoner of war; like Japanese samurais who commit seppuku, captured soldiers have sworn to take their own lives.
The story of Abutalip gave the story a different complexion. We read about the Stalinist propaganda and how it has oppressed and continues to oppress innocent individuals deemed as traitors by the state. The novel was set during the years of the USSR. But then again, this was just one of the novel’s several layers. There were details of folklore and legends interjected all over the story. History and memory were both prevalent. The novel also extensively grappled with the dichotomies between traditions and modernization. A prevalent example was the attitude – of arrogance – displayed by Sabitzhan during the funeral. He was dismissive of everyone else. Only Yedigei’s wisdom and sense of self-control kept him from giving his friend’s son a beating.
Adding a certain level of complexity to the story was a subplot involving two cosmonauts (one American and one Russian) and their unexpected contact with an intelligent extraterrestrial life form. Together, they traveled to the planet Lesnaya Grud’ (“The Bosom of the Forest”). If my hunch is right, this was a subtle but sly reference to modernization and how two countries have been racing to explore outer space. It was also an ode to the exponential speed of modernization, contrasted by the folklore that permeated the story. Interestingly, the launch site of the Soviet rocket, Sarozek-1, was a stone’s throw away from Yedigei’s railway junction and yet the junction was left mostly untouched by the development taking place everywhere.
I am nearly halfway through the story and I can’t wait to finish it. There are quite a lot of things happening although the novel’s framing seemed simple enough. I am riveted by its contrasting elements. There were also hints of mystery and it seems that a lot will still happen. How about you fellow reader? What book or books are you taking with you for the weekend? I hope you get to enjoy them. For now, happy weekend! And as always, happy reading and take care!