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Chinghiz Aitmatov – famous Kyrgyz author of iconic novels

Every country has at least one  famous person to be proud of. Kyrgyzstan has a great number of outstanding people, but the one that every single Kyrgyz person knows and the one whose work was translated into 150 languages is the writer Chingiz Aitmatov. You will be surprised how many people are named Chingiz (maybe after Genghis Khan or I want to believe after Chingiz Aitmatov). Anyway, be prepared to meet many Chingiz (the name suits  both female and male).


The best known figure in Kyrgyzstan’s literature was born to a Kyrgyz father and Tatar mother. His family was bilingual, Russian-Kyrgyz. His father was one of the first Kyrgyz communists and a regional party secretary, who in 1937 was charged with “bourgeois nationalism” in Moscow, arrested and executed in 1938. The Guardian wrote:

“Aitmatov’s life was itself full of paradoxes of epic proportions: the son of a victim of the Stalinist purges, he became the most decorated of all Soviet writers, gaining three state prizes and a Lenin prize. A beneficiary of the thaw, the cultural liberalisation which took place under Nikita Khrushchev, he became a world-famous author in the 1950s while still writing in Kyrgyz, gradually switching to Russian in the mid-1960s to became one of the most eloquent practitioners of the language. Aitmatov was deeply in love with his native land and lore, but he was also a Soviet patriot and a true internationalist.”

Aitmatov attended the Russian school, then Kyrgyz Agricultural Institute in Frunze, but changed from the study of livestock to the study of literature at the Gorky Literature Institute in Moscow.

He made his literary debut in Russia, in 1952, with publication of his stories in Russian. From 1958 to 1966 he was roving correspondent for the leading Soviet Newspaper Pravda. In 1968 he won the Soviet State Prize for literature for his novel Farewell, Gulsary!, a tale of an old man reminiscing about the parallel lives of himself and his old horse, which is dying. Aitmatov won two more State Prizes in 1977 and 1983, and was named a Hero of Socialist Labor in 1978.

“A communist true-believer, he never shied away from exploring and exposing in his prose the darkest aspects of Soviet reality, just as he tackled the issue of drug abuse and drug-related crime in his bestselling novel of the perestroika period, The Scaffold (1988).” The Gurdian

Chinghiz Aitmatov belonged to the post-war generation of writers. His output before “Jamila” (1958) was not significant. But it was Jamila that came to prove the author’s work. Seen through the eyes of an adolescent boy, it tells of how Jamila, a village girl, separated from her soldier husband by the war, falls in love with a disabled soldier staying in their village as they all work to bring in and transport the grain crop. Aitmatov’s representative works also include the short novels The White Ship, The Day Lasts More Than a Hundred Years, and The Scaffold.

Aitmatov’s work has some elements that are unique specifically to his creative process. His work drew on folklore, not in the ancient sense of it; rather, he tried to recreate and synthesize oral tales in the context of contemporary life. This is prevalent in his work; in nearly every story he refers to a myth, a legend, or a folktale.

“He was not a political dissenter but possessed an honest heart and melancholy philosophical mind, and tended to attribute the shortcomings of Soviet reality not to the evils of the political system, but to the inherent flaws of human nature, which the system was expected to correct. But until that happy day arrived he tended to show the world as he saw it: full of bigotry, prejudice, cruelty, sexism, patriarchal brutality, and general lack of harmony in the way people treat each other. All this is punctuated by beautiful scenes of human kindness, wisdom, love and devotion, set against the background of the stunning central Asian landscape which he poetically evoked.” The Guardian

In addition to his literary work Aitmatov was the Kyrgyzstan ambassador to the European Union, Nato, Unesco, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, and spent many years in Brussels.

Turkey nominated him – as a writer in a Turkic language – for the 2008 Nobel prize for literature.

Several of his stories were turned into popular movies. Aitmatov was working on the set of a film based on his science-fiction-infused philosophical parable The Day Lasts More Than a Hundred Years when he was stricken by his illness.

Chingiz Aitmatov, writer, born December 12 1928; died June 10 2008.

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