Kazakhstan has a rich and diverse literature, and these anthologies translated into the six UN languages offer an insight into its people and culture. The vast landscape, folk traditions, and the people’s nomadic roots all run deep through the nation’s heritage. This collection of prose and poetry pieces embody Kazakh’s identity and history, and presents a nation that is connected to its past and strives for the future.

Exploring Time and Space through Kazakh Literature

Kazakhstan has a rich and diverse literature with distinctive voices and literary merits of its own. This Anthologies of Contemporary Kazakh prose and poetry present more than 60 authors being translated into the six UN languages. These selected texts give a taste of the Kazakh literary wealth and provide some insight into the unique nomadic culture.

Kazakh fiction glorifies national culture and delivers a strong sense of belonging to the landscape. It is true to the people of Kazakhstan, their mentality, strivings, and innermost desires, but also captures the essence of being human: love, loss, pain, rejection, memory, faith, family, friendship and resistance, among others.

Prose: Moving to Modernism

The majority of the acclaimed Kazakh writers of the 60-70s were the orphaned children of the war, and emerged with the strong humanist voices. They re-narrated the 40-50s according to their own memory and many of their stories were of corresponding subjects.

Ayan, for instance, the protagonist of the tale Bitter Smell of Wormwood by Sayin Muratbekov is an orphaned child, as well as Qasym from Kalikhan Yskak’s White Rains. Sofy Smatayev’s “Song” depicts a remote Kazakh auyl, whose minor age dwellers learn to accept the other – in this case, an orphaned German girl. Sherkhan Murtaza’s “Boitumar” locates both Kazakh future represented by a child and Kazakh past represented by Siyaqul alike in an orphaned state. The main message of the story is the importance of the continuation of generations. In such a seemingly insignificant detail as boitumar – amulet – is wrapped the sense of belonging to Kazakh origins. All these stories and tales can be regarded as manifestations against war and spoke true to the bitter wartime experiences of ordinary Kazakhs.

The 60’s saw awakened national conscience: such significant writers as Abish Kekilbayev, Mukhtar Magauin, Oralkhan Bokey, Kabdesh Zhumadilov, Smagul Yelubai, Askar Suleimenov, and later Talasbek Asemkulov delivered a common message of resistance of national culture against Soviet rule. Akim Tarazi’s exceptional piece ‘Retribution’, written in the 80s, also represented the Soviet authorities as a harming and dominant other.

A prominent writer Tolen Abdik’s The Battlefield of Sanity is an account of more recent intellectual battles present in Kazakhstan.Short stories of Kazhygali Mukhanbetkaliuly, Bexultan Nurzhekeyev, Kabdesh Zhumadilov, Rakhymzhan Otarbayev, Alibek Askarov, Didakhmet Ashimkhanuly, andMarhaba Baigut delve into contemporary controversies of human essence. After Kazakhstan’s independence declared, new voices emerged in literature including Zumabai Shashtaiuly, Tursynzhan Shapay, Didar Amantay, Aigul Kemelbayeva, Zhusipbek Korgasbek, Roza Mukanova, Nurgali Oraz and Yury Serebryansky. They reject uptight legacies of (social) realism, tend to experiment and employ various artistically innovative forms.

Poetry: Re-establishment of Self

Poetry is an essential part of the life of Kazakhs, and every major event: birth of a child, the first steps, circumcision, engagement and marriage have always been accompanied by poetry. Kazakhs, have extraordinarily long ancient poems and folklore preserved solely by the means of oral narration. The earliest Kazakh-related written poetry pieces are dated 7-8th centuries: stone stelae of Orkhon and Yenisei have remarkable pieces of poetry inscribed in them. Poetry acquired particular eminence in the 16-17th centuries by the means of jyrau poets who were at the forefronts of military campaigns and were powerful advisers or outspoken opponents of the rulers. There is a traditional contest of verse improvisation aitys, accompanied by the national musical instrument, dombyra. Literature in contemporary Kazakh started to be printed in the 19th century, with Abay Kunanbayev who had an impact on the literary landscape like no other writer before or since.

These and other influences shaped contemporary Kazakh poetry’s style and voice diversity. Poets of the 60s as much the same as their counterparts from prose, were thematically concerned with humanity and consequences of the war, and focused on the assertion of Kazakh nationhood. From love lyrics of Tumanbay Moldagaliyev to revival of the old Turkic spirit in Temirkhan Medetbek’s poems, from experimental poems by Tynyshtykbek Abdikakimuly to surrealist verses by Akberen Yelgezek, from strong female voice of Fariza Ongarsynova to elegant stanzas by Gulnar Salykbay, the anthology represents diversity of contemporary Kazakh poetry.

Visit our blog section to read more on stories of the authors, Kazakh culture and the development of this Kazakh literature translation project.