‘Grandad! Ata! How did you even stay alive? How did you live to be a hundred in such good health and sound mind?’, my loved ones asked.
‘I’m surprised myself,’ I answered. ‘Probably the Almighty wanted you all to be born, and he had to keep me alive to drag me through the fire and ice of the godless people.’
In 2019 I translated the novel ‘Skaz stoletnego stepnyaka‘, by the Kazakh writer and playwright Bayangali Alimzhanov. The English edition of this book, ‘A Hundred Years on the Steppe’, is being presented this autumn by its publishers Hertfordshire Press during the Open Eurasian Literature Festival, part of Eurasian Culture Week in London (1-6 October).
‘A Hundred Years on the Steppe‘ is a story about the history of twentieth century Kazakhstan, told through events in the life of one Kazakh man, Asanbai Bektemirov. Born in 1900, Asanbai sees the Russian Civil War spill onto the steppe where he grew up. He then lives through Stalin’s Great Terror, is wounded on the front of the Second World War, escapes from a Siberian Gulag, and makes it back home to the steppe, where he grows old with a large family in Soviet Kazakhstan, alongside two close friends, a German and a Russian. As Asanbai turns 100, the novel ends with Kazakhstan struggling with its hard-fought independence.
The novel’s press release is true when it says that the story is a “chronicle of history, culture and traditions… simultaneously heart-warming and gut-wrenching in its honesty”. It was an honour to translate such an emotional story about people, Kazakhs, who are very close to my heart. It has made me happy this year to become friends with the author, Mr. Alimzhanov.
The novel ‘A Hundred Years on the Steppe’ is published in one book alongside two novellas by Bayangali Alimzhanov, ‘Let Me Live!’ and ‘Ablai Khan and his Batyrs’, both translated by Timur Akhmedjanov.
Jonathan Campion is a writer, a translator from Russian and Ukrainian, and a book editor. He has travelled in Eurasia since 2005. Read about his work here, and contact him here.