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The Railway by Hamid Ismailov
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The Railway (1997)

by Hamid Ismailov

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I could not finish this book because the writing style bored me to tears. Each chapter is too short to qualify even as a very short story; instead, they are vignettes that often left me wondering "what's the point?" Perhaps if I had read further, these vignettes would have become interconnected, or the characters might have been developed in more depth. I guess I'll never know since I never made it past page 50. ( )
  cestovatela | Aug 24, 2008 |
When this book was recommended to me, one of the words used was "sprawling". It's certainly an apt description of the novel. Broadly speaking, it centres around the fictional town of Gilas in modern day Uzbekistan, and particularly on one inhabitant, known only as "the boy".

The chapters generally focus on the personal stories of one or two of the town inhabitants or the boy's family, many of whom are fantastically named, like Ilyusha Oneandahalf (who had half an ear bitten off by a donkey when young) and Bolta-Lightning (the local electrician). Many of these histories are very folklore-esque: Ismailov has said that "there is nothing in The Railway that is not based on reality", and yet in the tradition of all good folk stories, there is plenty that is elaborated and exaggerated in the telling.

The book can sometimes feel frustratingly disparate, as if nothing is really locking together and all you're ever really being given are lots of snapshots. But the upshot of this is that you feel you're being given a picture of life in Soviet-ruled rural Uzbekistan, looking back to the nostalgic tales of the mighty warrior tribal leaders and wandering salesmen before "the Russian tsar suffered a revolution" and satirising the systems of government and those who try to run them and give them the run-around. However frustrating it can be that it's not always easy to work out why we're being told another story about yet more new characters, it's so easy to read (thanks to Robert Chandler's brilliant translation) and entertaining that it's difficult to put down. It's certainly a book that bears thought and re-reading, but it cannot be demeaned as a novel that's worth reading for its fun and sheer "exuberance", as Chandler refers to it in the introduction. But lurking underneath is a real commentary on the hardness and harshness of living through the twentieth century for those in central Asia, which makes reading it all the more rewarding. ( )
4 vote frithuswith | Sep 4, 2007 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Hamid Ismailovprimary authorall editionscalculated
Chandler, RobertTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0099466139, Paperback)

Set mainly in Uzbekistan between 1900 and 1980, this compelling novel introduces to us the inhabitants of the small town of Gilas on the ancient Silk Route. Among those whose stories we hear are Mefody-Jurisprudence, the town's alcoholic intellectual; Father Ioann, a Russian priest; Kara-Musayev the Younger, the chief of police; and Umarali-Moneybags, the old moneylender. Their colorful lives offer a unique and comic picture of a little-known land populated by outgoing Mullahs, incoming Bolsheviks, and a plethora of Uzbeks, Russians, Persians, Jews, Koreans, Tatars, and Gypsies. At the heart of both the town and the novel stands the railway station—a source of income and influence, and a connection to the greater world beyond the town. Rich and picaresque, The Railway is highly sophisticated yet contains a naive delight in its storytelling, chronicling the dramatic changes felt throughout Central Asia in the early 20th century.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:46 -0400)

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