The Railway Paperback – 5 Jul 2007
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"A wonderfully engaging novel" (Melissa McClements Financial Times)
"Imagine Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude on the empty plains of central Asia...The Railway is a bold and inventive, if damning, whirl through Central Asia's 20th-century history" (Charlotte Hobson Daily Telegraph)
"It is a work of rare beauty - an utterly readable, compelling book" (Craig Murray New Statesman)
"A poet's novel, full of memorable descriptive passages and heart-wrenching asides" (Independent)
"All picaresque exuberance, a jumble of influences from Persian to Soviet and beyond" (Catherine Lockerbie Sunday Herald)
A vibrant, multi-cultural and surreal satire set in Uzbekistan in the mid-twentieth century.See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
`The Railway' is a sort of picaresque novel, following the adventures of many of the inhabitants of a fictional town (Gilas). The book is populated with a vast array of characters, and begins with the first Russian revolution (1905) and ends in the late 1980s, when Ismailov began writing. It chronicles the absurdity of a town on the periphery of the Soviet Union, swept up by the communist revolution but strangely immune to the worst excesses of Stalinism because of its distance from (and irrelevance to) Moscow. Gilas (and Uzbekistan) is at the crossroads of many races and nations, featuring Uzbeks, Sarts, Uighirs, Russians, Koreans, German exiles, Muslim, Christian and Atheist. The stories of most of the individuals are comic, albeit with rather dark humour on occasion. There is the man who circumcises himself with his own pistol while trying to blow his sleeping son's head off, or the man who has been drinking locomotive brake fluid for years thinking that it was vodka due to a miscommunication with a train driver. Ismailov tries to cram in as many Uzbek types as possible, to give as complete a picture of the twentieth century of this nation as he was able. However, the book is not entirely picaresque, because all of the stories lead to the life of `the boy', an unnamed character born in modern Gilas.Read more ›
The stories themselves are full of Soviet black humour, of well-meant corruption, ineptitude and misplaced dilligence: of sign-writers for a town of illiterates; of simpletons promoted to positions of responsibility; of bribe-taking as a day-to-day event; of loud-speakers announcing news incorrectly to the town; of accidental Bolshevik heroes and equally accidental enemies of the Motherland. However, alongside all this somewhat familiar almost Russian Soviet-ness comes much of the more exotic nature of Uzbekistan: the various nationalities exiled there (Tatars, Koreans, Siberian peoples, Gypsies, Volga Germans to name but a few); the Uighars who build graves for their dead with ladders reaching to heaven (thus making them an inappropriate labour force for the construction of the railway - a horizontal ladder); the Muslim rites hidden and adapted in a Communist land; the bizarre popularity of Bollywood films, the heat and harshness of the desert; great travelling shepherds, crossing thousands of miles with their flocks, etc.
The stories all hang more or less on the railway of the book's title and the railway imagery in episodic, stop-start nature of the stories remains throughout the book. Chandler's translation also takes great care to keep up aliteration and rhyming rhythm to support this theme.Read more ›
I found this disconcerting for the first 50 pages, and then I relaxed into it, decided to take each episode as it came, as a folk tale, and in my mind's eye I saw it as a vast quilt, a bit like the AIDS quilt, where each panel had its own composition and meaning. In this frame of mind, it became an object of beauty. It needs to be said that this is a VERY funny book in parts, particularly when people do something stupid for the best of motives. Like, when a famous singer is visiting, the town decides to acquire a piano for him. And because it's an old piano, they have to paint it up nice and new, in white car paint, including the black keys. The best of the characters are lustily comic, almost Dickensian: such as Mefody-Jurisprudence, who learnt all the Soviet Penal Code - including commentaries - by heart while in a Gulag, but now can only remember it after three bottles of vodka. He has a friend who after an argument always pees on his bald head - and, wonder of wonders, all that potassium makes his hair grow again. It's also a very violent and painful book. People are exiled at whim, there is a large amount of mutilation and rape, especially rape of young people.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I bought this book several years ago when I was living in Tashkent. It will fool the 'inteligensia' who do not know Uzbekistan, but simply: there were no diesel locomotives in... Read morePublished 1 month ago by Andrew M. Emery