The daughter of a Jewish Azerbaijani father and a Russian mother, Sophia Shalmiyev grew up in 1980s Leningrad hearing her grandmother recite anti-Semitic jingles, ruffling Sophia’s hair as if this act of act of affection could erase the sting of her words.
Although Ak Welsapar is Turkmen, and one of the few Central Asian writers to have any international presence, The Revenge of the Foxes—his latest novel (or, given its length, perhaps novella) to appear in English—was written in, and translated from, Russian. It shows: Russian influence is very clear and, the nationality of the protagonist and some flashbacks aside, the book might be Russian, set in a decaying Moscow hospital at the fag end of the Soviet Union.
The story of Roman Fyodorovich Ungern-Sternberg—“a Russian general, Baltic baron, Mongolian prince, and husband of a Chinese princess”—more or less writes itself. In his novella, Horsemen of the Sands, Russian writer Leonid Yuzefovich tells the story largely from the perspective of the Buryats—ethnic Mongols living in Russia—through the medium of a lost talisman.
To get the details out of the way first: Alisa Ganieva is a Russian writer of Avar/Dagestani extraction. She has been called “the first Dagestani author to have their [sic] work translated into English”, and her most recent translated novel, the 2015 Bride and Groom—which was shortlisted for the Russian Booker Prize—is set in the Muslim-majority and turbulent Caucasus region of Dagestan.
Russia is once again much in the news, although the focus has been mostly westward-looking with the occasional southerly diversion to the Middle East. It’s worth remembered that Russia is the only major power other than the US which straddles a continent, giving it a physical presence that faces east as well as west. Here is an overview of some the books we have reviewed which cover Russia and East Asia.
Anton Chekhov, it appears, was not the first Russian literary luminary to visit Hong Kong. Chekhov had stopped off in October 1890 and wrote about its “wonderful bay”. English-language literature had to wait until Somerset Maugham came through more than a quarter-century later. But Chekhov was beaten to the punch by Ivan Goncharov who stopped by in 1853.
It’s pretty hard to compete with the invention of the chariot, the Silk Road, Genghis Khan and Tamerlane, so Christoph Baumer’s fourth and presumably final volume in his magisterial history of Central Asia is something of a mopping up operation.