Exploring the Turkic world, part four: stories

Mosque in Samarkand, UzbekistanThe Turkic world lends itself to epics, both in reality and in the imagination.

Indeed its geography and landscape gifts it the gravity to inspire and to celebrate (including some element of horror).


(Photo from here)

As Tom Bissell describes it:

Massive, sometimes flat, sometimes mountainous, sometimes terrifically hot, other times frigidly cold, plagued with thousands of miles of penetrable borders, lacking an identifiable geographic center…”
Chasing the Sea, p.20

chalkut-np-horseback-ride-raw_h2w3879.jpgThe geography of the Turkic world range from steppes and plains, to snow-bound mountains, forests and deserts, to urban milieux both modern and ancient, and many other environments besides.

The same steppes of Central Asia that Genghis Khan’s Mongol hordes rode over to conquer much of Asia and parts of Europe – including Russia – were the very ones that became “the death sentence of several empires that attempted to hold on to it” (Bissell). The same deserts of the Turkic world that intrepid explorers travelled over – some to give us detailed written accounts of its peoples and cities – were the very same that became the backdrop for a modern struggle between empires that lasted for over two centuries.

Tournament of Shadows

For people interested in this area, most are familiar with Peter Hopkirk’s books on imperial intrigues in Central Asia, which was called the “Great Game”. There is another book worth checking out, called Tournament of Shadows, which ostensibly was the Russian counterpart term for the “Great Game”.

Nine Layers of Sky

Science fiction novel Nine Layers of Sky blends Central Asian legend and possibility, peopling its story with characters from the mists of the region’s ancient history, the present and an alternate world. It’s written by a Brit who used to live in Kazakhstan and uses as its backdrop two or three Turkic countries. One character is that of Manas, the (ancient) national hero of the Kyrgyz epic poem – of the same name – that is longer than than the Odyssey and Iliad combined, and can take up to three weeks to recite (!).

The Day Lasts More Than a Hundred Years

The Turkic world’s most famous native son, however, is the still-living Chinghiz Aitmatov of Kyrgyzstan. Bissell described his most famous book, The Day Lasts More Than a Hundred Years, as “a strange and powerful attempt to combine Central Asian legend with anti-Stalinist critique with a glorification of the Soviet space program – making for possibly the oddest science fiction novel in all of literature.”

And with this, I officially end my series…but the story of the Turkic world is by no means over…


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