Altaic Storytelling Quote of the Week: Musa Anter

“If my mother tongue is shaking the foundations of your state, it probably means that you built your state on my land.”

(Musa Anter, Kurdish writer, assassinated in 1992)

The Xinjiang Gold Rush, Uyghur Scavengers and a Kind of Freedom

In a discussion of Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing’s The Mushroom at the End of the World — about Southeast Asian refugee immigrants and white Vietnam War vets picking mushrooms in Oregon — Darren Byler is struck by the way the mushroom pickers speak of freedom. He writes:

In a corner of China, several thousand kilometers from the Yunnan forests Tsing writes about in the second half of her book, I have lived with another group of pickers. They are Uyghurs who scavenge the dry river valleys near Yaken and Hotan on the border with Afghanistan for jade. Armed with hoes, these young Muslim men sort through rocks for months, avoiding the thousands of Han settlers and state-owned corporations that have come in the Jade Rush that has overtaken their homeland. After filling a fanny pack with stones they go to the city, dodging the many police checkpoints that stand between them and the regional capital Ürümchi. If they are seen by the police, they will be sent back or arrested. They will be caught up in the so-called People’s War on Terror, which targets young Uyghur men and thrives on indefinite detention and labor camps. Yet if these young men do manage to arrive in the city, they too, like the mushroom pickers, speak of a kind of freedom.

Read Byler’s full essay, Salvage Freedomhere.

Altaic Storytelling Quote of the Week: Elif Şafak on Bilingual Road Signs

The next day I am on my way to the Hay Festival. This year I am prepared for the rain – boots, scarves and raincoats. I remember the first time I went to Hay as a young novelist. I stopped by a road sign just because it was written in Welsh and English. I had never seen anything similar in Turkey. It was unthinkable: a simple road sign written in Turkish and Kurdish.

(From the online diary of Elif Şafak, Turkey’s best-known novelist)

Swedish Readers to Get First Glance into World of China’s Marginalized Reindeer Herders

With the upcoming launch of Ett brokigt band om renens horn, we have a rare instance of a member of China’s dwindling reindeer-herding Evenki telling her people’s story in a European language. Given the historic

“There are some things that, if I don’t record them, will truly be forgotten. I began collecting and collating our traditional handicrafts and legends. I want to use words to leave a record of everything about us Evenki.”

marginalization of Scandinavia’s own semi-nomadic reindeer-herders, the Sami, it is particularly significant to see that the first translation of the novel will appear in Swedish.

Translator and co-publisher Anna Gustaffsson Chen tells me that the book is being printed right now, and should be available “within a few weeks.” It is translated direct from the novel in Chinese, 驯鹿角上的彩带 (lit., colored ribbon on the reindeer’s horns), authored by Keradam Balajieyi, the daughter of the Evenki’s last Shamaness. See here for more about the novel.

The unique lifestyle and gradual 20th-century demise of the Evenki, particularly the Aoluguya Evenki in the Greater Khingan Mountains on the China side of the Amur, has actually been fairly well documented, but usually by outsiders. One of the first written records was penned by Gu Deqing (顾德清), a Han with an intense interest in the Evenki, who — despite efforts by the authorities to protect the isolated Evenki from contact with the outside world — hunted with them in 80s and wrote (the as yet untranslated) 猎民生活日记 (lit., Diary of a Hunting People’s Life). Gu Tao (顾桃), his son by his Manchu wife, has since gone on to shoot several renowned documentaries about them.  See Gu Tao’s Northern Hunting People for dozens of still photos featuring the Evenki lifestyle, handicrafts and their beloved reindeer.

Nor has the plight of the Evenki been neglected by foreign anthropologists. See Forced Relocation amongst the Reindeer-Evenki of Inner Mongolia, by Richard Fraser.

But perhaps the best known tale of the Aoluguya Evenki is the one told in Chi Zijian’s much-translated novel, 额尔古纳河右岸, now available in Dutch, English (The Last Quarter of the Moon), French, Italian, Japanese, Korean and Spanish. See here for a multilingual list of related links.

In fact, Chinese-to-Swedish translator Chen is also slated to translate The Last Quarter of the Moon from the Chinese, but has apparently chosen to do Ett brokigt band om renens horn first. It will be interesting to compare the two, because Chi Zijian is a monolingual Han writer imagining herself as an Evenki woman in her 90s, while Balajieyi is writing about her own people.

Trilogy Set on Yunnan-Tibetan Border

All three of the novels in Fan Wen’s trilogy set on the Yunnan-Tibetan border in the 19-20th centuries are now available — in one form or another:

My favorite so far was the first novel in the trilogy, Shuǐ rǔ dàdì, which I described thusly in my interview with the author (A Century of Cultural Collisions in Shangri-la):

[Shuǐ rǔ dàdì] . . . tells the tale of a multi-ethnic settlement in Lancangjiang Canyon — Gateway to Tibet — beset by battles between arrogant French Catholic missionaries, incompetent Han officials and their marauding troops, Naxi Dongba Shamanists, and the dominant Tibetans, not all of whom lead pacific, vegetarian lives in the local lamasery.

But the newest of the novels to be published (translated by Shelly Bryant), is Land of Mercy. Marcia Johnson in Shanghai has written to mention that she bought the Kindle version, is enjoying it, and notes that several of the chapters include “Field Notes” by the author about how he — a devout Catholic convert raised in Sichuan — came to “learn about some of the seemingly magical elements he weaves into his tale.”

See here for an interview in French with the translator of Terre de lait et de miel.

Altaic Storytelling: What We’re Reading Now (2017.5)

A few years back I read a longish, semi-autobiographical novel by Guo Xuebo (郭雪波), who was raised in the Horchin Grasslands of Inner Mongolia (科尔沁草原) and is a native speaker of Mongolian. Entitled 《蒙古里亚》— an attempt to replicate the sound of “Mongolia” in Chinese, I assume — it comprises three distinct narratives that are intricately intertwined as the novel progresses: A spiritual journey, in which the narrator/author seeks his Shaman roots; various “scenes” from the journey of a real-life, early 20th-century Scandinavian explorer among the Mongols; and the tribulations of Teelee Yesu (特勒约苏), a modern-day Mongolian herdsman, considered by many to be the village idiot, whose very survival is threatened by desertification and the machinations of a greedy coal mining company. I just finished my draft translation of an excerpt from the novel, in which Teelee is jailed for threatening to self-immolate (自焚). The excerpt all takes place in jail, as a bevy of reporters, Banner honchos and a mysterious security official alternately congratulate, chide and interrogate him, the latter out of fear that — heaven forbid! — he has been inspired by Tibet’s self-immolating Buddhist monks.

I’ve just started reading Manas Resurrected, a short story by Xi’an’s Hong Ke (《复活的玛纳斯》红柯 著). As far as I know, it has not been translated yet. I’m intrigued for two reasons: The reference to the ancient Kyrgyz epic Manas, and the fact that it is set in the early 60s when the Soviet Union’s Kazakhstan did its best to lure Xinjiang residents (mainly Kazakhs and Uyghurs) across the border. Apparently as many as 60,000+ did actually leave China. I don’t know much about this mass movement or the politics behind it, but it has not been forgotten in the PRC. The exodus came up in a short story (Sidik Golden MobOff) and again in a novel (Zuilian) by the Xinjiang-based Uyghur author Alat Asem, both of which I translated. He repeatedly refers to the attraction a new life in Kazakhstan exercised on many Uyghurs during that period, and at times his protagonists speak of the émigrés with great disdain.

Hundreds of Turkish Journalists in Jail or on the Run

The Hürriyet Daily News English edition reports:

Exiled in Germany: Can Dündar, former editor-in-chief of Cumhurriyet. An arrest warrant in absentia was issued in Turkey for him on 31 October 2016.

Some 123 Turkish journalists are fugitives abroad, while 159 of them were in jail as of the end of April, according to a report by the Turkish Journalists Association (TGC). 


The Freedom of Expression and Press report, which was made possible by the European Union, said 46 new investigations were launched and 20 additional cases were filed against journalists in the first four months of 2017, [Turkish-language] daily Cumhuriyet reported on May 19.

“In the past four months, Turkey continued to be the world leader with the number of journalists in jail,” the report said, adding that in nearly all of the cases regarding journalists, demands for trial without arrest had been rejected.”

 

Quote of the Week: Lumières de Pointe-Noire

Quand tu grandiras, quelle que soit la brousse dans laquelle tu entreras, dis-toi que les esprits y logent, et respecte aussi bien la faune que la flore, y compris les objets qui te paraissent sans intérêt comme un champignon ou un pauvre petit ver de terre qui tente de regagner le bord d’un rivière. Chez nous on ne chasse que les écureuils et les pangolins, c’est ce que nos ancêtres nous donnent comme gibier parce que les autres animaux, sauf si nous recevons message contraire à travers nos rêves, sont les membres de la famile qui sont partis de ce monde mais qui vivent dans l’autre. Mangerais-tu ton père, ta mère ou ton frère? Je pense que non. Je sais ce que c’est des choses bizarres pour toi que es un enfant élevé dans la ville, ce sont pourtant ces réalités qui ont fait de nous ce que nous sommes. Quant à toi, abstiens-toi de manger la viande de biche et de cerf car, même si tu n’en mourras pas, il y aura quelque chose de toi qui disparaîtra, et ce quelque chose s’appelle la chance, ou plutot la bénédiction . . .

(Excerpt from Lumières de Pointe-Noire by Alain Mabanckou)

Uyghur Author Alat Asem: Backgrounder in French

Brigitte Duzan at chinese-shortstories.com has just posted a detailed introduction to Alat Asem (阿拉提·阿斯木), a bilingual Uyghur writer based in Xinjiang. Here is her translation of the editor’s Afterword to his collection of short stories, 蝴蝶时代 (The Butterfly Era):

Dans le paysage éditorial de la littérature contemporaine chinoise, la littérature du Xinjiang dégage un charme spécifique et n’est assimilable à aucune autre, de quelque autre région. Les écrivains d’ethnies minoritaires du Xinjiang utilisent largement leur langue maternelle, et continuent d’écrire dans cette langue ; néanmoins, elle représente un obstacle à une large diffusion de ces œuvres dans le lectorat chinois. Tout en écrivant dans sa langue maternelle, Alat Asem écrit aussi bien en chinois, et les récits de ce recueil sont écrits dans cette langue, mais dans un style qui traduit une esthétique et un sens spécifique de la langue induisant chez le lecteur une impression de nouveauté. Ses romans ont été bien accueillis par les lecteurs, mais ont également attiré l’attention des critiques et cercles littéraires. La publication de ce livre offre une nouvelle facette de la création littéraire des minorités ethniques du Xinjiang…

For the full text, click here.

Quote of the Week: Qui a peur du wolof?

Si tout écrivain entretient des rapports orageux avec les mots, dans le cas de l’auteur africain, c’est sa langue d’écriture qui est tout entière problématique. On m’a ainsi demandé d’abord: 《Pourquoi ecrivez-vous en français?》, puis après la parution de mon roman Doomi Golo: 《Pourquoi écrivez-vous en wolof?》  

(Senegalese author Boubacar Boris Diop in Le dilemme des écrivains africains: Qui a peur du wolof? (Le Monde Diplomatique, March 2017)