The only renowned modern Kyrgyz author is Chinghiz Aitmatov, born near Talas in 1928. Aitmatov's parents were both civil servants and his father was arrested and charged with 'bourgeois nationalism' in 1937 and secretly executed as part of the Chong-Tash massacre of that year.
While working as a journalist for the Moscow newspaper Pravda he began writing fiction. His first work in the Kyrgyz language was White Rain in 1954, followed by the better known novella Djamila in 1958, a love story, which won him the Lenin Prize a few years later in 1963, the same year that he published his collection of short stories, Tales of the Mountains and Steppes. The collection explores the themes of love and friendship, and the conflict between Soviet ideals, individual aspirations and traditional life. Although some are firmly located in the Soviet context many of his works make an accessible and compelling read.
These works were succeeded with further short novels Farewell, Gulsary in 1966, for which he was awarded the State Prize for Literature in 1968, and The White Steamship in 1970 - and co-wrote a play The Ascent of Mount Fuji in 1973, with a Kazakh, Kaltay Muhamedjamov, addressing the moral compromises made during the rule of Joseph Stalin. It was received with ambiguity in Moscow and popularity abroad.
But it was not until 1980 that his best known work, The Day Lasts More Than a Hundred Years, was published, having first been serialised in the controversial Russian literary magazine Novy Mir.
The book's action takes place over the course of a single day and involves a railwayman living at a remote station on the edge of the Kazakh desert who is obliged to deal with the death of a colleague and bury him in the traditional Islamic fashion. The novel has an off-kilter science fiction subplot that involves two cosmonauts on a space station, an American and a Soviet, who make contact with intelligent life on another planet. The link between the two plots is the location of a Soviet space launch site close to the lonely railway station of the protagonist. The book is also peppered with strands of Turkic and central Asian mythology running through it, in particular the phenomenon of a mankurt, the dreadful fate that befalls a man or a people if they forget their language, culture and history.
Another full length novel, The Place of the Skull, was published in 1988, and tells the tale of a she-wolf and her cubs and their interrelationship with human lives along with a subplot that involves drug trafficking. The theme of animal-human interactions is a common one in Aitmatov's work: a deranged camel is a central theme in The Day Lasts More Than a Hundred Years and Farewell, Gulsary has a stallion as one of the two central characters.
Aitmatov became a major Soviet writer and was on the governing board of many intellectual and cultural institutions. He was head of the Kyrgyz Filmmakers' Union for over 20 years. During the 1980s his work became more overtly critical of government hypocrisy and the restrictions it placed on the individual. In spite of his implied criticism of the state, Aitmatov remained a member of the Supreme Soviet from 1966 until the demise of the USSR. He was Kyrgyz Ambassador to the European Union in Brussels. Sadly, he died couple of years ago.