Until reading this work, I had never thought of how Stalin's policies impinged on the nomadic peoples of Central Asia. In this memoir, written by the son of a traditional Kazakh herding 'aul' (community), we follow his life from childhood in the 20s - a life of migration, of clan solidarity and traditional ways, to Stalin's disastrous enforced collectivisation in the early 30s. With a combination of corruption, ill-management and and drought, there was a mass famine, which the author only survived by the skin of his teeth. "Three years earlier, my mother had ridden a white horse along this same route, sitting astride her silver-edged saddle studded with precious gems, with a child in a travel-cradle fastened to the front of her swaddle, leading a camel by a long rein attached to her left wrist. It was impossible to know what she was thinking now as she traipsed along in a state of semi-starvation." He writes of being banned from school as the son of a 'kulyk' (wealthy peasant), of homelessness, of the freezing winters ...and at last of the onset of World War 2. We know he went on to do well in his chosen career of teaching, becoming a headmaster, and living into old age (this book was written in early 2000s.) As another reviewer states, this is a 'flat', factual recounting of events, rather than an emotional or literary work, but informative, covering a place about which we hear little in the West. The introduction tells us that only "a fragment - perhaps some 5% of the stock-rearing population - has to this day survived."
This is the autobiography of a man who was borne just as Stalins psychotic actions started.He saw his father stripped of his land for being a kulak,the destruction of the nomadic way of life,the collectivisation of farmland with the resultant one million deaths from starvation,service in the Russian army when he was wounded and the eventual return to his homeland which is now regenerating since Kazakhstan became independent in 1991. It is not fair that any man should have to face such trials and tribulations. Very well written and researched with some good maps and a few pictures.
This is no literary masterpiece, so my rating reflects the contents rather than purely being about the style of the writing. This is a profoundly moving, personal account of the tragedy of the Kazakh nomads and the problems brought about by forced collectivisation. The writing style is actually fairly flat, almost impassive at times - which is probably a good thing as otherwise the book might be a painful read. As it is, it is informative and haunting. The author does not have a flair for writing (although it is a translation, so for Russian readers the original may be better), but he has a story to tell which is fascinating although tremendously sad.
This book should be read by anyone who is interested in Soviet history or in Central Asia - especially the vast lands of the Steppe. It should also be read by anyone who feels calmly confident that their way of life is fixed and impossible to change. This book shows how ancient traditions and customs can be completely destroyed in a very short period of time, partially by the brutality of a regime, but also by sheer incompetence. Anyone who has travelled or worked in modern Kazakhstan can barely recognise the country described in this book, so deep have the changes that the soveit system enforced on the country.