Posts featuring Hamid Ismailov

Weekly Dispatches from the Front Lines of World Literature

On Terezín, censorship in Iran, thrilling new Uzbek titles, and the long-awaited Nobel Prize for Literature announcement.

This week is an exciting one in the world of literature, and our editors are bringing you dispatches from the ground. Xiao Yue Shan discusses the winners of the 2018 and 2019 Nobel Prize in Literature. Julia Sherwood reports on a march from Prague to Terezín, a concentration camp established by the Nazis during their occupation of the Czech Republic. Poupeh Missaghi gives an account of literary podcasts in Iran, as well as the government’s role in quality control and censorship. Filip Noubel brings us an introduction of several new titles from the established authors of Uzbekistan. 

Xiao Yue Shan, Assistant Blog Editor, reporting on the Nobel Prize for Literature

The long-awaited Nobel Prize in Literature announcement of 2019 was prefaced by the usual barrage of news and predictionssome cynical, some vaguely hopeful, and most of which hedged their bets on women writers and/or authors who did not write predominantly in English. After the controversy of last year’s award (or the lack thereof), it followed a natural trajectory that our current politics lead us to search for brilliant literary representation that breaches the limits of our accepted canon of well-celebrated white men, and the Swedish Academy had seemed eager to prove themselves to be advocates for social progress, as they once again took on the role of alighting the flames of literary luminaries that will forever be enshrined as embodiments of success in the world of letters.

In a case of half-fulfillment, the 2018 Nobel Prize in Literature went to Asymptote contributor Olga Tokarczuk, and the 2019 Prize was awarded to the prolific Austrian writer Peter Handke. The latter aroused quite the maelstrom of negative responses, even with most still acknowledging his significant contributions and his fearlessly bold oeuvre, while the former is being hailed as a well-deserving, original, feminist voice, standing in the exact spot of where the spotlight should be shone.

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In Conversation: Hamid Ismailov

I wish that different literatures were mutually translated, bypassing English or other dominant global languages.

Very rarely does contemporary Uzbek prose get translated directly into English. Yet English readers have just been given a rare chance to discover the novel The Devils’ Dance (Tilted Axis Press, trans. by Donald Rayfield), by the prominent Uzbek writer and journalist Hamid Ismailov. In it, Ismailov introduces the curious reader to perhaps the most famous modern Uzbek writer, Abdulla Qodiriy. The novel tells the story of Qodiriy, who, like many intellectuals in the Soviet Union in the late 30s, was imprisoned and eventually shot dead. While in jail, Qodiriy attempts to recreate the unfinished novel the KGB has just confiscated, which portrays Oyhon, a poet-queen who lived in the last, grand days of nineteenth-century Turkestan when London and Saint Petersburg were fighting over Central Asia in the Great Game. I interviewed Ismailov about his diverse identities and the place of Uzbek literature in today’s global writing. 

Filip Noubel (FN): You are a global writer: you were born in what is today Kyrgyzstan, studied and worked in Uzbekistan, and now live in London. You write in both Uzbek and Russian, and appear in translation in a number of languages ranging from English to Chinese. In your books and interviews, you often refer to the plurality of cultures but also to their clashes. How is this multiple identity shaping your writing?

Hamid Ismailov (HI): Recently I did a DNA test, and aside from the obvious, I discovered that 4% of my genes are of South Asian origin and 2% are Irish, not to mention 1% Native American. So if my genes are telling me that I’m related to people like Rabindranath Tagore and James Joyce even on a genetic level, so be it! But, generally, the people of Central Asia, which is an area historically placed in the middle of the Silk Road, should be blessed to be born into multiculturalism, multi-lingualism and multi-identity. If you read my book The Railway you can see how many nationalities, traditions, and ways of life I have been exposed to in my childhood, so no wonder that I love to write in different languages, and to put myself into different shoes. In fact, exploring “otherness” both as a subject and an object is the most interesting part of literature.

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Translation Tuesday: “A Corpse” by Hamid Ismailov

"Looking from behind his son’s shoulder to the small pile in front of them, he saw a naked arm protruding from the snow."

Let him who gives me a shadow not hold me.
You know the breadth of a star
is not equal to the embrace of the ray.

Let me go, blue holy light,
my shadow is in torment on the black earth.
Am I drunk, or is my road drunk? 

The snow flows, the earth is white and black.
The word ‘I’ is a wanderer like I,
you are eternal as an icy, cracked puddle.

 Did we trip over our shadow
or did the mirage melt in the icy pupil—
a roof, holding up a lamp, when the house moved.

As the day approached noon, Zamzama awoke, and walked into his smaller bathroom to wash himself for the day. The light happened to be on in the narrow room, and he stretched his hands out towards the tap. At exactly the same point, his still-sleepy eyes happened to notice a naked adolescent lying in the bath. Maybe he realised that it was an adolescent due to the fact that the whole body could fit into the bath. Maybe also due to him lying in an empty bath naked, Zamzama purposefully didn’t look in that direction, rather washing his hands with soap and distracting himself with the trickling tap. ‘Perhaps I should have knocked, although he seems to be keeping silent,’ he thought for a moment, though this thought appeared and disappeared just as fast as the flowing water, circling down the drain.

The boy indeed kept silent. In order to avoid bad luck, he didn’t want to shake his hands dry. Therefore, trying to locate the towel in his mind, he unwillingly glanced at the figure in the bath. Was he one of the unmannered friends of his son? For some reason, his vision fell onto their fluffy crotch, jumping back up to the boy’s slanted, closed eyes. Whilst rushing out of the bathroom trying to make no sound, the fact that there was no water in the bath astounded him. Had the young man fallen asleep, and if so, how could he? Was he drunk? Only having just seen his fluffy groin, he thought, are his legs a little disproportionately short? Maybe they were just going into the dark bottom of the bath… READ MORE…