News: “The Devils’ Dance” by Hamid Ismailov wins €20,000 EBRD Literature Prize

Hamid Ismailov

The first Uzbek novel to be translated into English has been awarded the 2019 EBRD Literature Prize. Author Hamid Ismailov and translator Donald Rayfield will share the €20,000 award.

The Devils' Dance, Hamid Ismailov, Donald Rayfield (trans) (Tilted Axis Press, March 2018)
The Devils’ Dance, Hamid Ismailov, Donald Rayfield (trans) (Tilted Axis Press, March 2018)

Rosie Goldsmith, Chair of the judging panel, described The Devils’ Dance as


a thrilling novel about two real-life Central Asian poets. The 19th-century Uzbek poet-queen Oyxon, once a humble slave girl, rose to power and influence, marrying three Khans along the way and was ultimately threatened with execution. Her 20th century counterpart is the writer Abdulla Qodiriy, renowned, brave and also imprisoned, who distracts himself from brutish beatings and interrogation by reconstructing the novel he was writing about Oyxon when he was arrested. With its spies, police, princes, poets and great plot, this is an Uzbek Game of Thrones. The storytelling style captures perfectly the prose and poetry of Central Asia while being incredibly readable in English. A novel within novel narrated by a great novelist with an equally great translation.

Might Hamid Ismailov’s The Devils’ Dance open Central Asian literature to the world as Gabriel García Márquez’s novels did for Latin America?

Peter Gordon wrote in his ARB review that


The Devils’ Dance defies description. It is, at one level, prison literature reminiscent of Solzhenitsyn except that Hamid has set his book in the now relatively distant past; it does not reflect, at least not directly, current memory or experience. The Arabian Nights-like world that Abdulla conjures up for his novel is, on the other hand, veiled and exotic. It is a world of shimmering light and malevolent shadows, filled in equal parts with beauty, erudition, brutality and duplicity. He creates several memorable characters, notably Oyxon, “an unhappy woman who was wife to three rulers”, whom her creator and his characters compare to Helen of Troy.