Jamilia by Chingiz Aitmatov
Translator James Riordan
source review copy
Chingiz Aitmatov is the best known writer from Kyrgyzstan.He grew up in a time that his homeland became part of the soviet republic ,he himself held many post in the soviet system and was also a Kyrgyzstan diplomat after the fall of the soviet system all round Europe and was one of the most respect post war soviet writers and this is his best known book .It is only a short novel and was waterstones book of the month last month so is easily available to pick up so if you’ve seen it in store I hope this review may want you to pick it up as it is a book that will linger with you long after you have put it down .
perhaps it was because from childhood Jamilia had herded horses with her father and ,being his only child ,she was both son and daughter to him .She worked doggedly ,with a mans temperament .She got along with the other women,but if anyone treated her unjustly ,she would swear like a trooper :it was not unknown for her to grab someone by the hair the odd time .
seit describing his sister-in-law Jamilia .
Jamilia is only 96 pages long but hell a lot happens in those pages .Set in a small village in the neither regions of the old soviet union (more than likely Kyrgyzstanalthough never mention as there ) we see a village through the eyes of seit the younger brother in-law of the title character Jamilia .Now anyone that follows this blog will know I have a real soft spot for books set in villages as I feel villages are the same the world over the same characteristics and type of people live in villages the world over the names may be different from place to place but the characters you meet tend to be the same towns and cites tend to be different but every village has it’s stereotypes the world over .Anyway this village is focused on Jamilia she is the village beauty married her husband is away at war ,she is the sort of girl who turns boys head and is in the dreams at night .The other character we see through Seit’s eyes is Daniyar a sullen man with some disabilities but with a heart of gold .AS the book unfolds we see these three do a dance Seit watches how this young man Daniyar slowly makes his sister-in-law fall for him just by being a decent chap .all this set against the working s of a collective farm in the soviet era .The husband of Jamilia is away fighting on the front ,but is and ever-present figure in the book in the background .So who does Jamilia choose ?
But if a person who ,like Daniyar ,keeps to himself and takes no part in the village’s everyday affairs ,then he will simply be ignored by some,whilst others will say condescendingly ,”he does no harm nor good to anyone let him be ,poor soul ,he’ll survive .
Seit describes Daniyar shortly after he arrives in the village from the war
This book reminds me at times of the book cold mountain set during the american civil war another story about a couple separated by war although the tract of the stories are different it is still about the people left at the home front .This is a love story simple told observed through another eyes as you see Jamilia fall for Daniyar .I think the reason Aitmatov was so respected in the soviet period is this isn’t a book against the soviet system of collective farming or for it .No its a book about people and even thou in the distant Kyrgyzstan it is a universal story ,you could see this happening in a village in Wales or the peak district during the war and that is the mark of great fiction a book that is universal .The respected french writer and member of the academie Goncourt Louis Aragon called it the most beautiful love story in the world and I agree with him so if you want an evening away and to see people falling in love this is the book for you .
Have you read this book ?
Do you have a favourite love story ?