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Contemporary Kazakh literature

In the first decade of the twentieth century a whole pleiade of political thinkers and scholars formed in the milieu of the Kazakh intelligentsia. Well educated, they had played an active part in the stormy events of political life and they left a valuable literary heritage. Figures such as Shakerim Kudaiberdiev (1858-1931), Alikhan Bokeikhanov (1870-1937), Akhmet Baitursynov (1873-1938), Mirzakysh Jumbaev (1893-1938) and others collectively laid the foundations for the new Kazakh literature. Behind each of these names is an interesting creative life, affected by the revolutionary upheavals in Russia and the Kazakh intelligentsia's aspiration towards political independence for Kazakhstan. However, nearly all these lives were cut short because of accusations of nationalism and because of political repression, and they were expunged from the records by censorship until the end of the 1980s.

The literary figures Seifullin, Jansugurov and Mailin also perished as a result of political repression, but were rehabilitated post-humously in the 1950s and came to be acknowledged by Soviet literary critics as founders of Kazakh Soviet literature.

The author of some beautiful lyric poems, Saken Seifullin (1894-1938), would sincerely welcome the new way of life, guiding the hero of his poem Kokshetai away from images of his poem Kokshetai away from images of folk legend and past events towards new realities, and dedicating the songs 'Path to Happiness' and 'Red Falcons' to the new order. His historical documentary novel 'A Difficult Path, a Hard Transition' was also dedicated to revolutionary events happening in Kazakhstan. Another outstanding poet, Ilias Jansugurov (1894-1938), painted colourful pictures of folk life, using the imagery of ancient poets in his The Steppe, Kyushi, and Kulager. He would describe the transformation of the traditional landscape as it was forced to suit the demands of the new epoch. The talented writer Beimbet Mailin (1894-1938) created a vivid portrait of a poor peasant called Myrkymbai who agitated for the transformation of a Kazakh aul into a Kolkhoz. In the short story Raushan, the Communist he depicted the fate of a woman deprived of rights in the old days who with the advent of Soviet power becomes a worker for the new life in the aul.

Reading the works of such wordsmiths as Seifullin, Jansugurov and Mailin one does not have the impression that they are creating deliberate propaganda for Communist ideals, rather their works convey a sense of beauty and a feeling of joyous illumination, such as experienced by converts to a new faith. Their fate is all the more tragic because of this. All three were declared 'enemies of the people' and punished in the name of the same Soviet power which they had celebrated.

Of works about the war the best known are Moscow For Us by the writer/soldier B. Momyshuly, Notes from the Front by M. Gabdullin, and the war novels The Soldier from Kazakhstan by G. Musrepov, and The Long Awaited Day by A. Nurpeisov.

A major event in the history of Kazakh literature was the publication of the first Kazakh novel-epic Abai (1947), and Abai's Path (1956) by Mukhtar Auezov (1897-1961). One of the few survivors of the pleiade of the creative Kazakh intelligentsia of the '20s and '30s, the author's intention was to give the nation back its historical memory, successively destroyed by Soviet power, by recalling the nomads' high spiritual ideals and their expression. Auezov carefully modelled Abai's image, drawing on the rich possibilities of the Kazakh language and the traditions of epic narrative and folklore, and saturating the narrative with the names of story-tellers, poets, musicians, philosophers, scholars, historians and political activists from many nations. The novel about Abai soon tame to be known as 'an encyclopedia of Kazakh life'. Its high artistic standard and synthesis of Kazakh narrative traditions with the experience of world-wide writers gained him international acknowledgement. The novel won the highest state prizes of the Soviet Union and was translated into thirty languages.

Beginning in the 1960s (the time of the Khrushchev 'thaw' in the Soviet Union) Kazakh literature and the humanitarian sciences began to be concerned with reviving national history. Ну the '70s this interest in history became more conceptual than factual. Historical events, lavishly interpolated into literary works in the preceding decade, were considered in a wide human context, and the theme of contemporary life is set in relation to the past. The novel trilogy Blood and Sweat by A. Nurpeisov, The Nomads a series of historical novels by I. Esenberlin, Spring Waters by M. Magauin, and works by the commentator A. Alimjanov were the most famous prose works of this time. In poetry, works by M. Makataev, T. Moldagaliev, K. Myrzaliev and others were popular.

A new milestone in the development of Kazakh literature in the '70s was the work I in Russian - of Oljas Suleimenov (b. 1936). His crafted prose, in the composition Az and Ya, becomes a form of historical-linguistic enquiry, free of ideological prejudice and cliche, into the ancient sources of Turkic culture. With huge erudition and easy mastery of his historical material, Suleimenov was able to weave a thread linking Kazakh literature with older Turkic and pre-Turkic imagery, based on analysis of the monumental Russian twelfth century work The Tale of Igor's Campaign and the ancient Sumerian epic Gilgamesh.

Suleimenov's poem 'The Book of Clay' revolves around cultural researches into the depths of world history. It produced a huge response in Soviet literature, inspiring a new generation of the intelligentsia in their search for a spiritual dimension.

Of most recent literary works, Suleimenov's artistic exploration 'The Language of the Letter' (1998), dedicated to the problems of defining the origin of literature and language, and Nurpeisov's newel Last Duty (2000) about the extinction of the Aral Sea and people's tragedies at the start of the new millennium, are especially of note.


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