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At last, a guide to the literature of Kazakhstan

Dr. rafis abazov.

An example of Fosterstan's traditional architecture

When I talk to my students about the culture of Central Asia I try to make engaging and enlightening comparisons. As I begin talking about Central Asian culture I often tell them they are about to discover things that are completely new to them: they are about to open a window that looks out on a different galaxy. Some of what they see may seem familiar at first glance – built, after all, on the same humanistic structures – but I always suggest that they stop for a moment, to think and look more closely: beneath and inside familiar forms and shapes lies an immensely different experience. Contemporary literature is a substantial and infinitely revealing part of this distinctive universe. Indeed, this is a unique universe of people who lived in the never ending steppe for millennia and who built their worldviews by looking both at the beauty of the land where they put their yurts, nomadic felt tents, and by looking beyond horizons for new ideas and new opportunities.

There are different and competing views on the Kazakh literature of the post-World War Two era. One group stresses how it has developed under strong Russian and Soviet influence, pointing out that it has incorporated and developed only the major themes of the Russian and Soviet literary heritage and has followed the trend of Socialist realism. Social realism has been, according to these scholars, the overriding formational influence on modern Kazakh writers, poets and journalists, and has therefore heavily infused Kazakh literature with ideologically motivated topics and themes. Thus, this school of literary criticism claims, contemporary Kazakh literature should be viewed exclusively in the context of Soviet literature. Little Kazakh literature was translated into the western languages between the 1950s and the 1980s, with most of the translations and publications being the work of the ‘Progress’ Soviet Publishing House in Moscow. Even though very few published works from Kazakhstan actually had an ideological flavor, mere association with the Soviet publishing house often led to the perception of their being ideologically motivated. Therefore, scholars who study the literature of the Eurasian region rarely focus on the Kazakh literature of the post-World War Two period, and very few research works find their way to the pages of western academic journals. The post-Soviet Kazakh literature also remains largely terra incognita in the West, for scholars as for the general public, as it is seldom made available by western publishing companies. There is, of course, a much larger body of research literature on this period, but very often this literary criticism evolves around the same few topics, such as national identity, nation-state building and some other aspects of the modern Kazakh literature.

The other group of literary critics calls for a more nuanced assessment of the literary production of modern Kazakh writers. They agree that during the Soviet era between the 1950s and 1980s the popular culture, literature included, was heavily influenced by Soviet ideological perceptions, censorship, and the social realism approach. Yet they point out that, firstly, there were changes over time. The “thaw” of the 1960s had a long-lasting effect on subsequent generations of writers, poets and journalists who looked for inspiration not only in the West and western and Russian culture, but also in the traditional culture of Central Asia; not only in modernity and modernism, but also in traditionalist values of their own localities. Secondly, with the rise of national identity and national culture in the 20th century more Kazakh writers and poets begun thinking and discussing and often calling to rediscover the roots of modern Kazakh culture not only in the “west” but also in the mystic “orient.” These “roots” could be found in the heritage of Turkic nomadic civilization with its unique perception of mother nature and cosmology of nomads manifested in peculiar view of the power and responsibility of individual being connected to commander of the circles of life (powerful Yer-Suu) and weaved whimsically with the influential thoughts of Sufi thinkers who preached in the Eurasian steppe for centuries. Thirdly, the Kazakh intelligentsia, like those in Eastern and Central Europe, had grown accustomed to century-long cat and mouse games with the censors and the state bureaucrats. Like generations of writers in Imperial Russia of the 19th century they accepted the Procrustean bed of censorship, but they filled their works with allegories, symbols and surreptitious – and sometimes not so surreptitious – messages in order to get around the strict rules and restrictions and to express their thoughts and ideas. These critics, therefore, would have us avoid clichés and generalizations, and carefully examine the rich and wonderful heritage of the Kazakh literature of this era. After all, many writers, poets and intellectuals endeavored in their works to reflect and discuss the massive social changes and transformations and to deal – in their own ways – with the most common themes of that era, thus contributing to intellectual discourses in their own home country and in their region.

In approaching Kazakh modern literature, therefore, we ask many questions: how should we describe the place of Kazakh literature in the literature of Eurasia and of the world? How does Kazakh literature reflect the intellectual discourses within Kazakh society, Eurasia and the developing world? Did this literature reflect the inspirations and frustrations of the post-World War Two generation and the social and youth revolutions of the 1960s and 1970s in the same way as American and western European literature? Or did it ignore these discourses and trends, developing its own approaches and themes? For instance, did the writers and intellectuals of Kazakhstan use their own cultural and artistic symbols to talk about universal themes and values?

After raising those and many other questions comes time for reflection and discussion. This is another difficult part – how to generalize about modern Kazakh national literature which consists of hundreds great writers, poets and journalists who left an extremely rich cultural heritage? How to talk about all their concerns, values, changes, their relations with modernity and the modern globalizing world? These individuals have often used very different symbols for expressing their ideas and thoughts, against the backdrop of an ancient nomadic civilization and from within the Central Asian cultural universe.

This introductory article is divided into three sections. The first section deals with the historical and cultural background and the historical setting, which greatly affected the development of modern Kazakh literature. The second section examines the major themes and issues common in the Kazakh literature of the post-World War Two period and discusses their links with discourses in the world literature. The third section assesses the transition to the post-Soviet era and looks at some major emerging trends in Kazakh literature since gaining independence in 1991. The concluding section summarizes the major findings of this introductory article.

1. Symbolism in Kazakh literature

The most important feature in traditional Kazakh culture and art is the perception of the universe through the eyes of a nomad. In this view – nomadism is not only way of life, but also a way of thinking about the world around him, about circles of life, about the interactions with Mother Nature and a never ending movement of human soul. Human soul – according to this view – should always search for both perfect balance in real world and imaginary philosophical construction of the world.

If someone would like to distinguish and identify the essence of Kazakh literature and a single most important symbol of creative art among Kazakh – the main character would be a nomad.

It is not necessarily for a nomad to travel physically around the world – although actual travel between different localities is an important part of his nature. Sometimes s/he moves around in the thoughts and spiritual search of meaning of the life and his or her place in this universe. May be this is one of the reasons, reflected in the Kazakh literature and manifested in many literary works – Kazakh literature often invents and focuses on these travels and these explorations. One of the main characters of a nomad is his or her curiosity and desire to explore both the locality and the universe around him or her. A nomad is interested in learning, traveling, experimenting and exploring in an attempt to build these explored knowledge and feelings into his or her mosaic of the personal perception of the world around an exploring nomad. Therefore and it might be one of the main reasons that characters both in prose and poetry in Kazakhstan are often on the move – both personal move in exploring themselves and their relations with the people and the world around them and on the actual move – exploring new localities and meeting new places.

Another popular motif in the cultural symbolism of a nomad and nomadic life is the relations with nature. Here, a human being is a part of the universe equal to all living creatures overlooked and handled by the mother earth. Though s/he has one significant feature – human being has a power and ability to make a difference – it is in his power to make this world a better place or worse. Yet, a nomad is not entirely independent from the nature around him or her – the mother earth might some and indeed would come after a nomad if s/he makes mistakes and destroys nature especially animals around him. From this perception of the habitat and the world comes one of the interesting and quite common features in the Kazakh literature – the ability of a person to talk to animals, to trees or to simply to share his or her thoughts, emotions, worries and happiness. At certain point in Kazakh literature, especially in the 1950s and 1960s a large group of writers and poets reinterpreted the traditional nomadic relations with the mother earth and focused on conquering mother earth and building a new technocratic society. In this technocratic society people were free of “superstitions’ and were using new technologies (large factories) and new relations (brought together into collective farms (kolkhoz)) to conquest mother earth and build modernity – a ‘modern’ world for a nomad free of restrictive relations with the mother earth. Yet, there always were groups of writers and poets who opposed those views and interpretations of a life of a nomad. In their works they called for respecting and remembering the traditional nomadic philosophy of life and reminded in their works that mother earth would always come after them punishing for destroying the nature and in an attempt to restore the balance (or in modern language – eco-balance).

These discourses and hot debates between “modernists” and “traditionalists” manifested building different competing concepts of a nomad-hero. Both camps turned to a traditional motif in nomadic culture and folklore – a motif of a hero, but reinterpreted and reinvented the concept of hero in very different ways. Both camps were engaged in building collective positive characters for the hero and borrowing ideas from competing camps to build a character of anti-hero. On the on side of the ring was a hero who presented a power derived from modernity – logic, knowledge, ability to control emotions and reject old traditions and “superstitions” and even to sacrifices his love for his cause. On the other side of the ring was a traditional hero, often derived from traditional legends and from folklore. Like in the classic heroic literature of Europe, the 20th century “traditionalists” often romanticized a medieval knight or invented brave modern social warrior – a person with superior personal values, honesty and bravery and devotion to his love. The nomad-knight in Kazakh literature, like his counterparts in the western classic literature is a manifestation and symbol highest quality in friendship and in building his personal relations with loved ones; yet, full of emotions and superstitions which often led them to make personal and social mistakes.

2. Kazakh literature and modernity

The focal point of the modern Kazakh literature has been the issue of modernity. The Kazakh intellectuals have dealt with the rapidly changing would around them, as the traditional slow-moving pre-industrial society has been rapidly changing around them in an uncatchable speed. These changes have impacted not only everyday life, political and social relations, but also culture, values, special relations and world views.

And these complex changes led to intricate clashes between old and new, the values from the East and West, deeply localized community based cultures and cultural perceptions with highly internationalized and globalized perceptions of modernity and modern world. On the top of it deeply conservative perceptions of family values and interpersonal relations based on the tribal notion of honor and honesty clashed with very different notion of modern family, society and social relations. And Kazakh intellectuals have thought to discuss the impact of modernity at individual psychological levels, to explore family conflicts and changing nature of social relations between generations reflecting these changes, challenges and clashes in an artistic ways.

On the top of it – the post-World War Two era was the era of the rise of mass literature and mass readership. Very quickly – within a couple of decades – the Kazakh society turned from the society of mass illiteracy to one of the most reading nations in the world.

The modern literature of the 20th century reflected complex changes in Kazakh society. It bridged the gap between the nomadic oral heritage and new literature, which experimented with European models — “new” forms, especially in prose. The literary heritage of this era is an intricate reflection of these changes.

In general, Kazakh literature, like Central Asian Soviet-era literature revolved around three major themes — the revolt against old traditions and prejudices; the search for and establishment of social justice; and an awakening of a new hero and rebel spirit in the ordinary person. These themes were developed against a background of dramatic polarization wrought by the Bolshevik revolution in Kazakh society, and the extraordinary social, cultural and political changes instigated by the Soviet system, which radically altered the lives of every person in the region. The Schwarzenegger of Kazakh Soviet literature, however, was not of a kind readily adaptable into today’s Hollywood “action-hero”. His main mission was to change himself and people around him. His rebellion was against social injustice, traditional ways of life, rich and oppressive lords ( bais ) or restrictive ancient rituals. Also he challenged the age-old conception of family and personal honor, and their associated codes of revenge and forgiveness.

The social changes in the literary and intellectual world in Kazakhstan made a huge impact on the development of the literature and criticism. The old social barriers were removed and many talented individual from all kinds of backgrounds — working class, peasants, ethnic and religious minorities, – received an opportunity and often were encouraged to reflect their personal experience and experience of the people around them. Young Kazakh authors actively experimented in new genres, styles and themes, by by learning from classic Western and Russian literature and poetry, as many of them translated those works into local languages by themselves. All these changes significantly undermined influences of the classical Kazakh oral traditional heritage building favor of completely new literary universe, though many poets and writers frequently turned to the classic Kazakh oral traditions for inspirations and themes.

Yet, creativity in the Soviet system had its limits. The Soviet system did not tolerated criticism or deviation from the ruling party line. For many decades the government imposed a strait jacket of rules in the form of the “socialist realist approach in literature.” Socialist Realism stipulated “truthful, historically concrete reflection of reality in its revolutionary development”.

Like many Soviet writers of that era, Kazakh authors wrote about building the “new Soviet life” through the kolkhozes and industrial enterprises. But what distinguished the Kazakh writers was that they dramatized and complicated these stock themes by adding new local flavor and out of the ordinary nuances, and by representing the culturally distinctive patriarchal ways of Kazakh life and religious backwardness, as qualities in need of modern redemption. A typical cliché in the writing of this period was the depiction of newcomers (often urban educated and modern) as people of superior moral and spiritual power who helped the influential local characters to abandon the old (and “wrong”) ways of life and “discover” the irresistible power of the Soviet ideology and “culture.”

Between 1950s and 1990s the major literary themes has been Soviet patriotism and the World War Two (also called the Great Patriotic War (1941-1945)). The war had a huge impact on the Kazakh society as this war was depicted and perceive3d as a defense of the motherland from the powerful enemy who threatened the very existence of the society and the country. The suffering of ordinary people from hardship of the war era and bravery of those tens of thousands of young people who fought thousands miles away stimulated the comparison with the past history of Kazakh society and Kazakh steppe and interest in historical novels for many decades. Some Kazakh writers also turned to historical issues writing monumental historical novels. Various dramatic and decisive pages from Kazakh history were illustrated by Iliyas Esemberlin in trilogy Koshpendiler (Nomads) and Altyn Orda (Golden Horde), by Mukhtar Auezov (1897-1961) in his monumental four-volume novel Abai and Abai Zholy (The Path of Abai), by Abdizhamil Nurpeisov in trilogy Kan men ter (Blood and Sweat), by Abish Kekilbayev in Abylai Khan , Saken Zhunisov in Akhan Sere and Amanai men Zamanai (Amanai and Zamanai), and Anuar Alimzhanov in Makhambettin zhebesi (The Arrow of Makhambet) and others.

Probably the most popular genre in Kazakh literature has been short novels and short stories, as this format found mass readership through publications in literary newspapers, cultural and literary magazines and in small American style take-to-the-beach format inexpensive collections of short stories. The best works of that era focused on changing relationships in small close-knit communities in remote areas, as difficulties and sufferings helped people to overcome family, tribal and communal differences and Romeo and Juliette-style romantic stories about young people whose love help them to overcome prejudice of old social traditions, vendettas or social and cultural barriers. Importantly, during this era a new common character emerged in Central Asian literature – this time a local hero returned home to a small town or city – the Kazakh equivalent of Alabama or Montana – bringing a whole new universe with him or her after experiencing a “new” life in a completely different “real Soviet” environment.

Among the writers of short stories who won huge following and commanded large audiences were Gabit Musrepov (1902-1985) with his short stories and essays with picturesque depiction of the life in Kazakh auls (villages), Abish Kekilbayev (1939-) who mastered romanticizing the Kazakh steppe, Rollan Seisenbayev (1946-) who produced interesting short stories about the youth, Oralkhan Bokeev (1943-1993) who idealized the simple life of people living country side and the beauty of the Kazakh nature, Tulen Abdikov (1942-) who mastered short stories and novels about people and nature, Mukhtar Magauin (1940-) whose short stories attracted attention by depiction of the relations between people and natural world, Muagali Makatayev (1931-76-) whose poems attracted attention by depiction and romanticizing of simple life in Kazakh aul.

The life of Olzhas Suleimenov – Kazakh poet, writer and intellectual – is a good example.

Olzhas Suleimenov (1936- ). While a student at Kazakh State University he began to write poetry. In 1958-1959 he attended the Gorky Literary Institute (Moscow). In 1959 he published his first collection of poems in Moscow. From 1961 to 1975 he worked variously as a journalist, an editor of the literary journal Prostor , an editor at the studios of Kazakh-film , and in administration for the Kazakh Union of Writers. His poem Zemlia poklonis cheloveku (The Globe bow to a man!) (1961) brought him wide recognition. In 1975 Suleimenov published his book Az-i-ia , a historical-philosophical essay on Turkic historical destiny. In it he explored the history of the interaction between nomads (Turks) and settlers (Slavs) and the place of the Kazakhs in the historical development of Eurasia. The publication was condemned by Moscow’s policy makers as “nationalistic”, and the book was confiscated and banned until 1989. Suleimenov became one of the most prominent Kazakhi dissidents of the 1970s, and only the personal intervention of the Kazakh first secretary, Dinmuhammed Kunaev, saved him from imprisonment. Az-i-ia won him nationwide recognition in Kazakhstan and a reputation as the “opener of difficult issues in the national history”. After political rehabilitation, he worked in various positions with the Union of Writers. He became one of the most influential writers in Kazakhstan in the 1980s. His active public life in the 1980s won him a reputation as the “voice of the Kazakh intelligentsia”:

A word – [is] a leisurely reflection of a human deed. The height, depth and colors are begot by the tongue. Reflected in the words are a sip, And a strike of a blow, And a smile, A sound of hooves through the aeon, And incline of a weighed-down vine.

In the 1970s and 1980s mainstream writers continued to explore the crucial social issues surrounding the development of Soviet society. During this time Central Asian literature was more in line with popular Soviet themes, as many writers depicted the life of large collectives, where innovators and enthusiasts struggled against opportunists and conservatives. Yet, some Central Asian writers ventured away from propaganda and the Socialist Realism theme and began exploring such forbidden issues as the rise of nationalism or anti-colonial struggles, or they simply revised and even challenged state-impose dogmas and ideas, especially official Russia-centric interpretations of history and cultural development. For example, Kazakh poet Olzhas Sulemenov, in his books Azia turned to the traditional issues — the history of nomadic steppe — radically departing from the ruling party-approved interpretation of the conflicts of those periods and paved the way towards creating alternative historical accounts.

The quality of Soviet-era literature was very uneven. Even Soviet literary critics recognized the existence of works they deemed “primitive with no artistic merit”, having “clichéd characters…with stereotype heroes” and “vaguely defined” conflicts. The Schwarzenegger of Central Asian literature, like his American “action-hero” counterpart, was predictably a good-looking, politically-correct person, who inevitably challenged bad guys and always won the battle (and often the heart of an attractive woman) despite numerous tricks by his enemies. Yet there were many literary works that reflected upon genuine conflicts between the old and the new, or critically examined the emancipation of women and men from the stultifying restrictions of old tribal, communal or religious customs. And these, by and large, were the works that the ordinary people were reading. Some extraordinarily talented writers and poets created works that captivated many people in Central Asia and beyond. It is also important to remember that the Soviet authorities were investing heavily in the development of the national identity of the newly created nation-states, and to this end, they sponsored national literature, poetry, art, education, etc. In addition, it must be keep in mind that the Central Asian languages were standardized only in the 1920s and 1930s. Therefore the national writers and poets of that era were often pioneers who revolutionized national culture by writing not in classical Persian or Turkic, but in the languages understandable to ordinary peasants and workers.


Like the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, the breakdown of the Soviet Union and breakaway of the Central Asian Republics in 1991 marked an important milestone in the development of the literature of the region. Suddenly many restrictions that had been imposed by the Communist Party apparatchiks disappeared. Many topics previously considered politically incorrect became open for public discussion. Also, the national intelligentsia, especially the writers and poets, discovered that they could discuss the development of national culture, national identity, and national history (even its darkest pages) without the approval of Moscow. Interest in national culture and national symbols skyrocketed, and there began a wide public search for hidden symbols and coded anti-colonial sentiments in past and present literature and in the works of the banned writers.

There was also much heated debate about the national literatures of the Soviet and pre-Soviet eras. Many argued that much of Soviet era literature was so ideologically infested and so superficial in depicting communist-era topics that it did not present any value in the post-Soviet and post-colonial era. At the same time, the Kazakh intelligentsia argued that many authors of the pre-revolutionary and post-revolutionary eras who were banned for their anti-colonial and anti-communist or politically incorrect views should be rehabilitated and given a place in the national cultural heritage. Yet another group argued that the wholesale rejection of Soviet era literature could not be justified; after all, those works laid the foundation for the national literature. Those writers also reflected the realities of everyday life, the depth of the political and social divides in the societies, and the confrontation between representatives of different generations and different social groups. These debates hit the pages of national newspapers, magazines and literary journals and sparked lively polemics about the historical development of art, literature and poetry.

While intellectuals were busy reevaluating the achievements and faults of their national literature, and the ways in which to respond to the changing world, the world itself arrived at their doorsteps in the form of crises that struck the literary circles on many fronts. Kazakhstan’s governments significantly cut its previously generous subsidies to publishing houses, writers unions, book clubs and individual authors. It was now up to the market or rich philanthropists to decide which authors could publish and survive in this very unstable environment. At the same time, the reading audience was shrinking at catastrophic rates, with recession, poverty, and unemployment affecting more than three-quarters of the population. Many people, even professionals — teachers, researchers, doctors, lawyers — could no longer afford to buy books. And most importantly many writers themselves, especially of the younger generation, failed to pen significant pieces worthy of wide public attention, as many intellectuals really struggle to capture the essence and impact of social and cultural changes and around them and come up with captivating and appealing pieces.

All of these factors engendered pessimistic themes and an emphasis on crisis at the personal, communal, or societal level. The verses of Kazakh poet Konysbai Ebil to some degree reflect this trend:

I don’t care If it is bazaar or market: If you have knowledge — show it; I can’t define anyone as the “enemy of the nation” [anymore] And there is also no one who has concerns about the people.

Yet, despite these problems some authors managed to continue to write, producing some interesting works. Paradoxically, the call to return to national roots was not realized in a grand revival of pre-modern genres and styles, although there was increasing public interest in traditional heroic epics, legends, tamasha (humor and satiric stories), etc. Many old works were republished with new and extensive commentaries. Most contemporary authors continue the modern Western traditions in writing novels, short stories, poems and polemical essays on various social, cultural and political issues.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that Kazakh literature has been at a crossroads ever since independence in 1991. Many factors account for the slow and painful transition. The most noticeable trend is that the reading audience is much smaller than in the past and slowly shrinking further. Although living standards have been gradually improving, and many social groups have been struggling to adapt to the new economic reality.

The second important trend is the fragmentation and polarization of society. Social groups are stratified not only in terms of income. There can be seen the emergence of significant differences in living standards between urban and rural areas, growing differences and even rivalries between representatives of different provinces that begins in politics and extends to all other aspects of life. There is also a growing gap between the secular intelligentsia and the religiously oriented intelligentsia, and significant differences and values and lifestyles between people who grew up and were educated during the Soviet era and the post-Soviet period.

This is the foreward extracted from Dr Abazov’s new anthology of Kazakh Literature. Buy your copy here . Photographs courtesy of Shutterstock .

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Writing by Kazakh Women

Kazakhstan is the largest country by landmass to emerge from the breakup of the Soviet Union aside from Russia itself, but it has had an undersized impact on world literature. Its rich oral storytelling tradition has so far gone largely unrecorded outside the Kazakh and Russian languages. When we take into account that the region has had very little experience as an independent state but a centuries-long history of colonialism—Mongolian, Russian, and most recently Soviet—we start to understand how it is that no specifically, identifiably Kazakh body of literature has yet surfaced separate from those overbearing influences. Most of what Kazakhstan can claim has already been attributed to the Russians, or the Ottomans, or the Mongols, or the Persians.

The writings of the poets and novelists working within the boundaries of Kazakh socialist realism during the Soviet era have also not generated much interest from abroad. The fresh influx of banned books and translated literature during the perestroika   and glasnost years could have transformed Kazakh literature, but it did not do so, at least not immediately. Only much more recently has a greater sense of artistic freedom begun to filter into the writings of Kazakh poets and novelists.

This new writing is still difficult to find, especially in English. Here is our attempt to begin that work with excerpts from two short stories (novellas, really) and one work of nonfiction by three contemporary Kazakh writers stepping outside the bounds of socialist realism. Their stories have similar themes but are written in different styles. Together, we hope, they provide an interesting insight into what preoccupies Kazakh women writing today.

Aigul Kemelbayeva’s novella The Nanny  is a landmark: the first work of fiction written by a Kazakh woman to break with the conventions of Kazakh socialist realism. The perhaps-autobiographical story of a Kazakh student of Russian literature trying to survive in Moscow in the months following the collapse of the Soviet Union, The Nanny  presents a new kind of protagonist: an uncertain, introverted young woman, whose only source of strength is her multicultural patchwork of knowledge, covering Russian literature, Islamic religion, and Kazakh folk culture.

Indebted to its landmark predecessor, Zaure Batayeva’s novel The School  presents a few hectic months in the life of another young Kazakh woman trying to survive in a post-Soviet world. Stylistically, however, it is very different from The Nanny : terse and bare, it follows closely on the heels of its narrator. The story also pushes into new territory thematically, touching upon the low status of the Kazakh language among the Russian-speaking elite, the romantic confusions of the glasnost   generation, and the corruption pervading the country’s education system.

Zira Naurzbayeva’s The Beskempir  reads like a work of fiction, but, as the author assures us, the old women who feature in the story are real. Here, we present the introduction to the work. The rest of the essay consists of vignettes that give readers an unprecedented glimpse into the intergenerational relationships shaping the lives of so many families in Almaty during the late Soviet era (relationships which, the author suggests, are becoming increasingly rare). Each old woman has her own past and personality. Together they represent not just the complex history of women in Soviet Central Asia, but also what happened to those women as they moved from countryside to city, from communism to capitalism, and watched their children and grandchildren do the same.

All three of the authors showcased here are experienced writers who have plenty to tell us about the culture and time that shaped them, both personally and professionally. We hope you enjoy this look at a changing world from their point of view.

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Resources for the Study of Kazakh Literature and Culture

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As general sources for the study of various aspects of Kazakh literature and culture, many of the works highlighted on the Slavic Reference Service’s Kazakh National Bibliography page are of great value, particularly the library catalogs , bibliography of bibliographies , Baspasȯz shezhīresī , and A. E. Alektorov’s Ukazatel’ knig, zhurnal’nykh i gazetnykh statei i zamietok o kirgizakh .  But perhaps the first bibliographies devoted specifically to some aspect of Kazakh literature and culture were those compiled by the archeologist I. A. Chekaninskii in volume 1 of Zapiski Semipalatinskogo otdela Obshchestva izuchenii︠a︡ Kazakhstana = Qazaqystan tanuv qoghamynyn︠g︡ semeĭdegi b ȯ liminin︠g︡ chazbalary (U of I Library call number History, Philosophy & Newspaper FILM 915.8 Z17), including (for example) 85 entries on the great medieval Kazakh poem ‘Qozy Kȯrpesh-Baian sūlu’ (pp. 55-63), 62 entries on shamanism/”baksylyk” (pp. 85-87), and 18 entries on the ruins of Qyzylkenshi (pp. 96-98), many of them annotated.  (Chekaninskii also contributed a bibliographical note on the famous 1916 anti-tsarist uprisings in Central Asia on pp. 105-109, which was surely one of the first to cite Kazakh-language sources.)

The ambitious bibliographies of V. M. Sidel’nikov (see below) and G. Zhamansarina and B. Qanarbaeva ( Qazaq auyz adebietining bibliografiialyq k ȯ rsetkishi, 1900-1991 = Bibliograficheskii ukazatel’ ustnogo narodnogo tvorchestva, 1900-1991 — Almaty, 1998) continued this trend with an emphasis on folklore, which has been brought more or less up to date with S. S. Akasheva’s Qazaqstan folʹklory men folʹkloristikasy (Almaty, 2002).  A number of other reference works covering non-folkloric subjects exist, however, and a sampling of these has been annotated below as well.

In general, researchers interested in the cultural life of Kazakhstan should familiarize themselves with the great Mădeni Mūra (“Cultural Heritage”) series published by the Kazakh Ministry of Culture.  Over 500 volumes in this unnumbered series have appeared since its inception in 2004, several of which are described below.  As of September 2012, the full text of most of these volumes is freely available at http://www.madenimura.kz/kk/culture-legacy/books/ .

Menu of works available in full text at www.madenimura.kz

Pending the inclusion of additional materials (such as the 1996-1997 Russian/Kazakh bibliographic pair Literatura i iskusstvo Kazakhstana: bibliograficheskii ukazatel’, 1932-1992 and Qazaqstan adebiettanuy zhane syn: bibliografiialyq korsetkish, 1932-1992 ), this page is divided into the following sections: Bibliographies, Biobibliographies and Encyclopedias and Dictionaries.


Ustnoe poeticheskoe tvorchestvo kazakhskogo naroda: bibliograficheskii ukazatel’, 1771-1966 gg..

Sidel’nikov, V. M.  Alma-Ata: “Nauka,” 1969.

U of I Library Call Number: International & Area Studies–Central Asian Reference 016.8943 Si1u; also available at Oak Street Facility.

Published under the auspices of the Kazakh Academy of Sciences’ M. O. Auezov Institute of Literature and Art, this slim volume provides an excellent overview of nearly two centuries of scholarship on (and transcription of) Kazakh folklore and the Kazakh oral/musical poetic tradition.  The categories “folklore” and “oral tradition” are broadly conceived, as can be seen by the inclusion of entries for a 19-page pamphlet on Chokan Valikhanov due to its coverage of his ethnographic work, and of a 1957 volume of Makhambet Otemīsov’s poetry due to the popularity and subsequent “folkorization” of his songs.  Reviews of items cited in the bibliography (if any) are themselves cited at the end of the entry for that item.

Perhaps the most outstanding feature of the bibliography is that the vast majority of the nearly 2,000 entries are accompanied by brief yet useful annotations.  The entries are organized chronologically, beginning with Peter Pallas’ Reise durch verschiedene Provinzen des Russischen Reichs (St. Petersburg, 1771), which included a handful of Kazakh legends along with its descriptions of Kazakh religion and customs.  The index includes names of those who collected, transmitted, translated or commented on folkoric sources. Since a number of journals and newspapers are cited in the entries in a somewhat cryptic abbreviated form, a list of these periodicals and their abbreviations is also provided.

The entries in this bibliography were mainly derived from other, more general bibliographic sources such as A. E. Alektorov’s Ukazatel’ knig, zhurnal’nykh i gazetnykh statei i zamietok o kirgizakh and the indexes to prerevolutionary journals such as Russkii filologicheskii viestnik , Izvestiia Otdeleniia russkago iazyka i slovesnosti , Etnograficheskoe obozrienie , and Zhivaia starina .  In an attempt to include materials never before indexed, this corpus of entries was supplemented based on items found in the collections of what are now the Russian State Library, the (Russian) State Historical Library , the national libraries of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, the library of the Kazakh Academy of Sciences, and others.  Books, brochures, edited volumes, individual articles within edited volumes, journal articles, newspaper articles, and avtoreferaty of dissertations broadly relevant to the study of Kazakh folklore are all included.  Sidel’nikov, a prolific scholar of folklore and folk songs, also compiled a predecessor volume ( Bibliograficheskii ukazatel’ po kazakhskomu ustnomu tvorchestvu , Alma-Ata, 1951).

Qazaqstan folʹklory men folʹkloristikasy (1990-2000 zhzh.): bibliografii︠a︡lyq qȯrsetkīsh = Folʹklor i folʹkloristika Kazakhstana (1990-2000 gg.): bibliograficheskiĭ ukazatel.

Akasheva, S.S.  Almaty: Tsentral’naia nauchnaia biblioteka, 2002.

U of I Library Call Number: International & Area Studies–Central Asian Reference 016.398095845 Ab93k

Published by the Library of the Kazakh Academy of Sciences, this bibliography of folkloric prose, poetry and folklore studies published in Kazakhstan in the 1990s contains over 1,700 entries for books, journal articles, newspaper articles, dissertations and other types of publications.  Publications and re-publications of actual folkloric texts are indexed in the first section of the bibliography, followed by scholarly studies of folklore-related subjects in the second section.  Additional sections are devoted to the 1,000th anniversary of the Kyrgyz epic Manas and to the 150th anniversary of the birth of the great Kazakh aqyn (“folksinger”) Zhambyl Zhabaĭūly.  “Folklore” is broadly conceived and not limited to ethnic Kazakh traditions, as can be seen by the inclusion of citations to studies on the folklore of Kazakhstan’s Russian and other non-Kazakh populations, as well as materials relating to folk traditions elsewhere in the world.  Items with ambiguous titles are accompanied by brief annotations explaining their subject focus.  Author and title indexes are provided, and a brief introduction (in Russian) provides an overview of the discipline of folklore studies and the activities of prominent folklorists in Kazakhstan in the 1990s.


Qazaqstannyn︠g︡ kȯrkem ădebietī, 1946-1957: bibliografii︠a︡lyq kȯrsetkīsh = khudozhestvennai︠a︡ literatura kazakhstana, 1946-1957: bibliograficheskiĭ ukazatelʹ..

Almaty: Qazaq SSR-nīn︠g︡ A.S. Pushkin atyndaghy memlekettīk respublikalyq kītapkhanasy, 1958.

U of I Library Call Number: International & Area Studies–Central Asian Reference 016.8943 Al6k

Although the time period referred to in the title might seem to limit the usefulness of this nearly-700-page biobibliography to those interested in immediate post-war Kazakh literature, this impression is misleading.  All materials cited were indeed published between 1946 and 1957, but new editions of (or commentaries on) the works of authors active in earlier periods (such as the great Kazakh literary luminaries Abai and Otemīsov) are also included.  Thus the bibliography provides a window into the entirety of Kazakh literary publishing and criticism in the immediate post-war years, including new versions of (and literary criticism of) works which were originally published before the war (or before 1917, for that matter).  Additional significance derives from its publication at the height of the Khrushchev thaw, enabling the inclusion of information on authors who fell victim to Stalinist purges, such as Saken Seifullin (pp. 217-220 and 542-545), for the first time in over two decades.  The bibliography was compiled based on the holdings of what were then the All-Union Book Chamber and All-Union Rudomino State Library of Foreign Literature in Moscow, and of what are now the Kazakh National Library, Library of the Kazakh Academy of Sciences, and National Book Chamber of Kazakhstan.

The biobibliography follows an organizational scheme strongly reminiscent of that of the great ongoing biobibliographical series for Russian literature, Russkie (sovetskie) pisateli: prozaiki and Russkie (sovetskie) pisateli: poeti (U of I Library call number International & Area Studies–Russian Reference 016.8917 L54r and Main Stacks 016.8917 R921s).  Standalone entries are provided for each individual author and his* works.  Entries generally begin with biographical information about the author (which varies in length and level of detail based on the perceived importance of the author) and end with an extremely detailed list of their publications (and publications about them) between 1946 and 1957, including translations into other languages, newspaper articles, reviews, works appearing in anthologies, etc.  A fair number of the items in these lists are given added value by lengthy and useful annotations.

While the index of personal names covers the entire work, the biobibliography is nevertheless divided into two main parts, one in Kazakh, and one in Russian.  All authors listed in the former, however, are also listed in the latter, with their works divided into “Qazaq tilinde/Na kazakhskom iazyke” and “Orys tilinde/Na russkom iazyke” sections as appropriate.  Researchers should note that the Kazakh- and Russian-language biographical entries for individual authors are not direct translations of one another, nor are the lists of their works identical in both sections, suggesting that the first and second halves of the work were compiled independently of one another.  The biographical information is usually slightly different, the annotations for Kazakh-language publications can be significantly longer in the Kazakh section than in the Russian section (and vice versa), and some individual works (and reviews thereof) may appear in one section but not the other (the entries for D. E. Riabukha — pp. 309-311 and 616-618 — are a good example of this).  In general, the Russian section gives a more comprehensive overview of an author’s works, regardless of language, while the Kazakh section goes into more detail about each author’s Kazakh-language publications (and criticism thereof).  Linguistic skills permitting, users should consult both sections to acquaint themselves with the full biography and the full range of materials by and about a particular author.

In addition to the two main sections, a number of additional sections are also included, featuring (for example) bibliographies of various aspects of post-war Kazakh literary criticism (including lit crit on pre-revolutionary Kazakh literature), information on the contents of several dozen Kazakh- and Russian-language literary anthologies, and entries for Soviet Uighur authors (pp. 641-646).  Together with N. Sabitov’s Qazaq adebietining bibliografiialyq korsetkishi, 1862-1917 (Almaty, 1948), Abdilkhamit Narymbetov’s three-volume Qazaq sovet adebieti: adebiet tanu men synnyng bibliografiialyq korsetkishi (1970- ), its multivolume successor Qazaq adebieti: adebiettanu, syn zhane onerding bibliografiialyq korsetkishi (1986- ), and the Kazakh National Library’s new Russian/Kazakh pair of bibliographies for the decade following the years covered in this volume ( Khudozhestvennaia literatura Kazakhstana, 1958-19 67 and the two-volume Qazaqstannyng korkem adebieti, 1958-1967 , both published in 2008), this impressive volume will provide researchers with excellent bibliographic access to the entirety of Kazakh literary publishing and literary criticism.

*The authors selected for inclusion are almost exclusively male.

Abaevedenie: bibliograficheskii ukazatel’ = Abaĭtanu: bibliografii︠a︡lyq kȯrsetkīsh.

Mirzakhmetov, M. Alma-Ata: “Nauka,” 1988.

OCLC Accession Number: 20934746

Like Khoja Akhmed Iassaui, the importance of Abai Qūnanbaĭūly (a.k.a. Kunanbaev) to contemporary Kazakh identity and culture is difficult to overestimate. Partly due to his own role as an interpreter and reformer of Kazakh traditional culture, this comprehensive bibliography of works by and about Abai (as he is commonly known) therefore functions not merely as a reference work focused on a single individual, but provides a window into Kazakh culture as a whole.  Endeavoring to index all materials relating to Abai published between 1898 and 1985, the bibliography is divided into Kazakh- and Russian-language sections, with separate indexes of personal names for each.  Separate lists of the Kazakh- and Russian-language periodicals used in the compilation of the bibliography are also included.  The entries are organized thematically, under rubrics such as “Abai shygharmalarynyng tekstologiiasy zhaiylda,” “Mukhtar Auezov — abaitanudyng negizin salushy,” “Abai murasy okulyqtarda,” “Ideino-kul’turnye istoki Abaia,” “Ob istorii Abaevedeniia,” and “Dissertatsii o literaturnom nasledii Abaia Kunanbaeva.”  Within each of these sections, entries are listed alphabetically by main entry (i.e., by author or first word of the title for collectively-authored works).  The bibliography was published by the M. O. Auezov Institute of Literature and Art of the Kazakh Academy of Sciences, and begins with a brief Kazakh-language introduction.

Bibliograficheskiĭ ukazatelʹ po tvorchestvu M.O. Auėzova = M. O. Ăuezov tvorchestvosy boĭynsha bibliografii︠a︡lyq kȯrsetkīsh.

Ăuezova, L. M. et al. Alma-Ata: “Nauka,” 1972.

U of I Library Call Number: International & Area Studies– Central Asian Reference 016.894337 B471 v. 1

Published by the Kazakh Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Literature and Art that bears his name, this was the first attempt at a comprehensive bibliography of works by and about the great Kazakh playwright, author, literary scholar, and president of the Kazakh Writer’s Union, Mūkhtar Ăuezov (1897-1961).  Ăuezov’s daughter Lăĭla played a leading role in compiling the bibliography.  The entries are separated into two main sections:  works by Auezov, and works about him.  Within each section, the entries are organized by language (works in Kazakh, works in Russian, works in other languages of the Soviet Union, works in foreign languages) and then chronologically by date of publication. Auezov’s own works are further subdivided by genre (short stories, novels, plays, librettos, collected works, etc.).  Books, journal articles, newspaper articles, individual articles from edited volumes, forewords and commentaries from editions of Auezov’s works, reminiscences of Auezov in the memoirs of his contemporaries, and official documents relating to Auezov’s literary, cultural and leadership activities published since 1917 are all indexed.  Some of the entries are enhanced by brief annotations and/or detailed lists of contents.  Two title indexes — one Kazakh, one Russian — of Auezov’s works are provided, along with separate Kazakh and Russian indexes of personal names.  A number of previously-published bibliographies of Auezov and Kazakh literature in general were consulted in the compilation of this work, as were the collections of most of the major libraries of Kazakhstan and the USSR.  Special emphasis was placed on tracking down and indexing Auezov’s early, often pseudonymous works in Soviet Kazakh literary journals of the 1920s.  The thorough bibliographic examination of these rare periodical publications was complemented by a review of later Kazakh periodical publications (including regional newspapers) through the 1960s.

While the work is labelled “volume 1,” no library in the United States appears to hold any subsequent volumes. Auezov’s eponymous institute at the Academy of Sciences appears to have published an expanded version or successor edition in 2005 ( M. O. Auezov shygharmashylyghy boiynsha bibliografynsha bibliograiialyq korketkish ), but no U.S. library appears to hold this volume either.

Both before and after the end of the Soviet era, bibliographies on other important Kazakh cultural figures (e.g., the Kazakh National Library’s 1994 Qozha Akhmed Iassaui: bibliografiialyq k ȯr setkish = Khodzha Akhmed Iassavi: bibliograficheskii ukazatel’ and its 1965 Saken Seifullin: tughanyna 70 zhyl toluyna arnalghan ădebietterdīn︠g︡ qȯrsetqīshī — U of I Library call number: Oak Street Facility 016.894337 Sa29) have also been compiled.  Taken together, they can provide a broad sense of the cultural preoccupations and concerns of the Kazakh people through history as well as at the present time.  The above bibliographies on Abai and Auezov are meant to be representative of the genre and indicative of the type of research that such resources make possible.

Encyclopedias and Dictionaries

Qazaq ădebietī: ėnt︠s︡iklopedii︠a︡lyq anyqtamalyq..

Baltabai Abdighaziev, ed.  Almaty: “Aruna,” 2005.

U of I Library Call Number: International & Area Studies–Central Asian Reference 894.33703 Q12

Part of the “Mădeni Mūra” series, the entries in this encyclopedia effectively trace the history of the narrative form in Kazakhstan from ancient times to the present.  Most of the entries are biobibliographical in nature, focusing on individual authors, poets, critics, storytellers, reciters of epics, literary scholars, etc. who were or are active in Kazakhstan.  About 5,000 entries (mostly brief) and over 1,500 small illustrations (mostly black & white portraits) are included.  The main bibliographic effort has been expended on the biographical entries, while entries on genres (“Zhurnalistika,” “Zhyraulyq poeziia,” “Psikhologiialyq roman”), abstract concepts (“Kontekst,” “Burkenshik at,” “Tartys”), and some types of publications (e.g., prerevolutionary newspapers such as Alash and Qazaq ) are largely without accompanying bibliographies.  The large majority of cited sources are in Kazakh, the remainder in Russian.  The volume ends with a list of abbreviations, a list of contributors, and a brief list of sources used in compiling the encyclopedia (all published since 1993).  A major emphasis is placed on Kazakhstan’s rich oral tradition.

As of September 2012, a complete digital version of this encyclopedia is available at http://www.madenimura.kz/kk/culture-legacy/books/book/kazak-edebieti-enciklopedialyk-anyktamalyk .

Qazaq mădenietī: ėnt︠s︡iklopedii︠a︡lyq anyqtamalyq.

Ashirbek Syghai, ed.  Almaty: “Aruna,” 2005.

U of I Library Call Number: Central Asian Reference 958.4503 Q12

Effectively a companion volume to the previous encyclopedia, this work attempts to cover aspects of Kazakhstan’s culture other than oral and written literature, including architecture, archaeology, visual arts, art history, music, drama, film, and handicrafts.  All time periods from antiquity to the present are included.  Entries range from substantial reviews of Kazakh aesthetics, ethics, theater, painting, etc., to biographies of individual artists, actors, musicians, and others, to discussions of individual circus and dance troupes, state-sponsored performance companies, archaeological sites, traditional Kazakh decorative techniques, musical instruments, and other subjects.  Somewhat incongruously, entries for a number of non-Kazakh cultural phenomena (“Akkordeon,” “Dzhaz,” “Zikkurat,” “Qaita orkendeu dauiri” [the Renaissance], “Sonata,” “Stanislavskii zhuiesi,” “Ekspressionizm”) are also included.  Most of the more substantial entries conclude with brief bibliographies of related Kazakh- and Russian-language sources, while biographical entries for actors, composers and the like include acting credits, works composed, etc. in the main body of the entry.  A few entries are devoted to cultural figures and institutions from Kazakhstan’s Korean, Uighur, and other ethnic minorities, while Russian and Ukrainian contributions to the culture of Kazakhstan are well represented.  The volume ends with a list of abbreviations, a list of contributors, and a brief list of sources used in compiling the encyclopedia (ranging in date of publication from 1987-2004).  While the juxtapositions between entries on the architecture of ancient ruins and on modern rock groups (among others) can be jarring, the more than 6,000 entries and approximately 2,500 small but effective illustrations (frequently in color) included here do provide a comprehensive snapshot of the cultural life of Kazakhstan.

As of September 2012, a complete digital version of this encyclopedia is available at http://www.madenimura.kz/kk/culture-legacy/books/book/kazak_madeniet .

Qazaq ădebi tīlīnīn︠g︡ sȯzdīgī: on bes tomdyk.

Ysqaqov, Akhmedi and Nurgeldi Uali, eds.  Almaty: “Arys,” 2006 –2011. 15 vols.

U of I Library Call Number: International & Area Studies–Central Asian Reference 494.33703 Q125 v. 1-15

This massive dictionary of the Kazakh literary language includes terminology from all disciplines, time periods, and sociolinguistic registers — over 150,000 entries in all.  Like the Oxford English Dictionary , on which this dictionary is either intentionally or unintentionally modeled , these entries are supported by nearly 600,000 quotations drawn from thousands of individual sources, representing a significant increase (rich in new, post-independence borrowings and neologisms) over its celebrated predecessor, Akhmedi Ysqaqov’s ten-volume Qazaq tīlīnīn︠g︡ tu̇sīndīrme sȯzdīgī (1974 –1986).  Major sources include the Kazakh oral poetic tradition (including transcriptions of Kazakh epics from the eighteenth century forward), influential Kazakh-language periodicals such as Aiqap (Troitsk, 1911–1915), the works of seminal figures such as Abai, Auezov, and Mustafa Shoqai, and the works of Kazakhstan’s current president.  Material is also drawn from a wide range of other sources (dictionaries of sports, obstetrics/gynecology, and banking, for example). The list of sources occupies more than 40 densely printed pages, and itself constitutes a bibliography of virtually every significant work in the Kazakh language. Words of Arabic, French, Latin, and Greek origin are given in the original, usually without acknowledgement of the role of Russian (if any) in transmitting them to Kazakh. The entries can be quite elaborate, as can be seen in the 15 pages devoted to saiasat (politics) and its derivatives ( aleumettik saiasat [social policy], saiasatshyldyq [political intrigue], and so on).

A lengthy Kazakh-language introduction and afterword explain the compilers’ methodology and standards in detail, as well as situating the dictionary among earlier efforts to record the Kazakh language.  The dictionary was compiled by the Academy of Sciences of Kazakhstan’s A. Baitursynuly Institute of Linguistics, which (according to press releases) is already planning an expanded 20-volume edition.  Part of the Mădeni Mūra series like the previous two items, this is already one of its most substantial publications.

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Rewriting the Nation in Modern Kazakh Literature

Elites and narratives, diana t. kudaibergenova, also available.

Cover image for the book Historical Dictionary of Afghanistan, Fifth Edition

Cross-Cultural Studies : Education and Science ISSN:2470-1262 (Print), ISSN:2831-4077 (Online)


DOI: 10.24412/2470-1262-2023-1-28-34 Abstract: This article is devoted to issues of the genre – as one of the most pressing and most debatable problems today. The purpose of this article is to characterize the genre of historical novel and the genre of essays in Kazakh literary criticism, as well as to provide information about representatives of these genres: Ilyas Esenberlin and Bakhyt Kairbekov. Issues of diversity and changes in genres in literature are very relevant and require further study. This will identify important patterns of their development, establish relations between them, determine the specifics of their kinds, and also find which of the genres have outlived their age, and which are still quite viable and meet the spirit of the times. The question of continuity in the development of genres, of historically repeated signs found in the variety of individual genres, in the history of literary criticism is most deeply posed by scientists who have studied literature in close connection with social life.

Keywords: genre, literary criticism, essay, Kazakh literature, historical novel

References: 1. Bakhtin M.M. Voprosy literatury i estetiki. Issledovaniya raznykh let. M.: Khudozh. lit.. 1975. p.12 2. Nurgaliyev R. Traditsii i sovremennyy literaturnyy protsess: Monografiya / Rymgali Nurgaliyev. – Alma-Ata: Zhazushy. 1986. p.438 3. Ismakova A.S Poetika kazakhskoy khudozhestvennoy prozy nachala KhKh veka (tematika. zhanr. stil) : avtoreferat dissertatsii doktora filologicheskikh nauk : 10.01.02.- Almaty. 1998. p.60 4. Bakhtin M.M. The problem of content. material and form in literary art..Kiev. Next. 1994.p.233 5. Epstein M.N. At the crossroads of image and concept (essayism in the culture of modern times). M.. Soviet Writer.1989. pp. 334-380 6. Beysembiyev K. Ocherki istorii obshchestvenno-politicheskoy i filosofskoy mysli Kazakhstana. Alma-Ata: Kazakhstan. 1976.p. 428 7. Bakanov A. Sovetskiy istoricheskiy roman. Kiyev. 1989. p.184 8. Berdibayev R. Ot legendy k romanu. Stati i issledovaniyana kaz. yaz.). Alma-Ata: Zhazushy. 1976. p.224 9.https://iphlib.ru/library/collection/newphilenc/document/HASH01e1ff027f5920f4c8bae3e110. Salkhanova Zh.Kh. Genre of essays in the works of Bakhyt Kairbekov. Bulletin of KazNU. 2015

For citation: Beisenova Zhainagul S., Seralimova Saule A., Abdrakhmanova Elmira A., (2023). About Genre Diversity in Modern Kazakh Literature. Cross-Cultural Studies: Education and Science, Vol. 8, Issue 1 (2023), pp. 28-34 (in USA) Manuscript received 11/02/2023 Accepted for publication: 26/03/2023

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The Power of Context: Abai Kunanbayev’s Translations Made European Literature Accessible to the Kazakh People

By Dmitry Babich in Opinions on 7 November 2020

This year is marked by the celebration of the 175th anniversary of Kazakh poet and writer Abai Kunanbayev. Kunanbayev went on to become the first Kazakh classic writer famous not only for his works, philosophical treatises and music, but also as a translator, who popularized the masterpieces of world literature for a general audience. He translated into the Kazakh language the works of Alexander Pushkin, Mikhail Lermontov, Ivan Krylov, Ivan Bunin, Adam Mickiewicz, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Lord Byron.

kazakh literature essay

Abai Kunanbayev. The painting was created by the artists from the Zhagyru creative association. The painting is on display at the Museum of Arts of the East Kazakhstan region in Ust-Kamenogorsk.

Recently, Sauytbek Abdrakhmanov, Deputy of Mazhilis (the lower chamber of Kazakh Parliament), Doctor of Philology and Member of the State Commission on preparation to the 175th anniversary of Abai Kunanbayev, released the work dedicated to Kunanbayev’s contribution as a translator and analyzed the originality and meaning in his translations.

In Search of the Context

This is the most striking and the most modern element in Abdrakhmanov’s  philological essay on Kunanbayev’s translations “Thus Spoke Abai” – the context, in which Abdrakhmanov puts the translations of Pushkin and Lermontov. Known to every high school student in Kazakhstan and Russia, these works get fresh colors and produce new melodic sounds, when a meticulous, but also loving researcher puts them next to each other – Pushkin’s verses and Kunanbayev’s translations. And when Abdrakhmanov adds a charming contextual detail – such as a brief study on love letters in the nineteenthcentury rural Russia and Kazakh steppes of the time – the reader is invariably rewarded for the time spent on reading the Russian and Kazakh variants of “Eugene Onegin” or other works. 

kazakh literature essay

Sauytbek Abdrakhmanov

Let us not forget: the works of one of the greatest modern philologists – Vladimir Nabokov’s “Commentary to Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin,” Yuri Lotman’s “Pushkin. Biography of a Poet,” Mario Vargas Llosa’s “Flaubert and Madame Bovary” – they were all about that same thing. About the context of a certain great literary achievement of the past. 

Essay review in Russian media 

Parts of Abdrakhmanov’s essay “Thus Spoke Abai” were reprinted and discussed on the pages of some of Russia’s most popular and influential newspapers: Komsomolskaya Pravda, Nezavisimaya Gazeta and Argumenty i Fakty. The interest of the Russian-speaking public could be easily explained: the essay is easily readable and talks about things both familiar and new to the followers of highbrow literature in Kazakhstan, Russia and other countries. This essay tells us about the writers of our childhood: Pushkin, Lermontov, Byron, Lafontaine and Ivan Krylov – but their works and life stories are presented in a very special Kazakh way, they are put in the context of the Great Steppe. 

Abdrakhmanov chose his special theme: how were the world’s great literary works interpreted by Abai, which obstacles and prejudices did he have to overcome when searching for a way to bring Pushkin and Lermontov to the heart of his freedom-loving nomadic people, which was originally more used to listening and not reading long poetic works.

From Aesop to Abai

Did you know, for example, that Aesop’s famous fable “The Crow and the Fox” originally speaks of meat, and not of cheese, as the Fox’s prized reward for flattery?

The great French writer La Fontaine replaced Aesop’s meat with cheese (a part of “delicatessen” of his epoch). Abdrakhmanov proves that it was a part of La Fontaine’s “text strategy”: the Fox is not going after something necessary for survival (such as meat), its lies are a way to get an undeserved luxury. Later the Russian translator of that fable Ivan Krylov chose to stick with cheese. Abai Kunanbayev, who followed suit translating from the French and Russian translations into Kazakh, kept the cheese option, but used the adjective ‘karagym’ (my dear) when describing the Fox’s flattering attempts to make the Crow sing. Abdrakhmanov proves convincingly that Abai did it to demonstrate his Fox’s special approach to flattery. 

kazakh literature essay

“There was no shortage of meat in the Great Steppe of Abai’s times,” Abdrakhmanov explains Kunanbayev’s decision to keep the cheese. And cheese, especially the famous cheese from the Duchy of Limbourg, mentioned in the first chapter of Pushkin’s “Eugene Onegin,” cost a lot because it was imported straight from the producer in today’s Belgium. 

But this is just the beginning of Abdrakhmanov’s “chain of contexts,” which follows Aesop’s fable from its Greek origin via the French and Russian translations to Abai’s supreme interpretation. “It is hilarious how in the French translation by La Fontaine the Fox is addressing the Crow as a nobleman speaking to a nobleman,” Abdrakhmanov writes. Indeed, let’s see the French original:

Maître Corbeau, sur un arbre perché,

Tenait en son bec un fromage. Maître Renard, par l’odeur alléché, Lui tint à peu près ce langage : Et bonjour, Monsieur du Corbeau, Que vous êtes joli ! que vous me semblez beau!

Here is an English translation: 

At the top of a tree perched Master Crow; In his beak he was holding a cheese. Drawn by the smell, Master Fox spoke, below. The words, more or less, were these: “Hey, now, Sir Crow! Good day, good day! How very handsome you do look, how grandly distinguished!”

Even in the English translation one can see the satirical approach of La Fontaine to his countrymen’s attempts to appear “distinguished” and to be addressed by the words “sir” and “maître” (a word somewhat more respecting than “mister” or even “master”).

Abdrakhmanov notes that in Krylov’s translation Lafontaine’s two noblemen (the Crow and the Fox are both “maitres,” respected men, in Lafontaine’s fable) suddenly become women, and the Fox calls the Crow “a sister” trying to get into her good graces. In Abdrakhmanov’s analysis, this is a hint at Russians’ habit of searching for relatives and friends in a certain sphere where one has to get an advantage. 

In Abai’s translation the Fox addresses the Crow as a friend (‘karagym’), without referring to any relatives, which reflects the Great Steppe’s ideal of camaraderie. In the Kazakh variant, there is no referring to class solidarity (some very forgivable for the seventeenth century “class solidarity of noblemen” in the French translation) or to family connections  (the “sister” of the Russian translation). 

In Abai’s translation, the Fox (a man) speaks to the Crow as a friend and an equal, but “with a sweet voice” and obviously with some gentlemanly compliments (“what a neck, and the eyes… no need to be shy about your voice too!”).

The result is a funny and charming translation of the immortal tale with several important Kazakh realities, which Abdrakhmanov reveals to us, making shine a side of Abai’s talent that we haven’t been aware of. 

Tribute to Altynsarin

In his quest for context, Abdrakhmanov does not limit himself by the legacy of Abai alone. In his research on translation of European fables, Abdrakhmanov brings to our attention the memoirs of Ybyrai Altynsarin, the prominent Kazakh educator of the 19th century.

“Initially, Abdrakhmanov writes, Altynsarin did not want to include fables into the textbooks for Kazakh children, saying that it took some time for Kazakh children, who grew up in a very severe natural environment, to see the charm of fables. Originally they preferred “realistic” stories to the fictional settings of speaking crows and foxes.”

But,  Abdrakhmanov notes, in 10-15 years this hurdle was overcome: both children and parents learnt to understand and love Aesop’s language. Kazakhs quickly learnt and adapted to their needs European culture, while preserving their own. And in unfree Soviet times Aesop’s language proved to be not just a charming luxury, like cheese in Crow’s beak, but an instrument of survival, necessary for a free thought. 

Abdrakhmanov’s essay is free not only from political constraints. It is also free of the desire to get rid of the past and free of the fear to look further into the future. It is this freedom which is most precious today.  

Sauytbek Abdrakhmanov is Deputy of the Mazhilis (the lower chamber of Kazakh Parliament), Head of the Deputy Group of the Assembly of the People of Kazakhstan in the Mazhilis and Doctor of Philology. 

Abdrakhmanov was born in 1951 in the South Kazakhstan region. He graduated from Al-Farabi University in the early 1970s. He started his career as a journalist and worked in the Socialist  Kazakhstan newspaper for 12 years. Later he became the editor-in-chief of Yegemen Kazakhstan (Sovereign Kazakhstan) newspaper. He was the Kazakh Minister of Information in 2003-2004. In 2016 he was elected into Mazhilis (the lower chamber of Kazakh Parliament). 

The author is Dmitry Babich, a Moscow-based journalist with 30 years of experience of covering global politics, a frequent guest on BBC, Al Jazeera and RT.

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Abai: A Poet for All Seasons

  • Abai Peter Rollberg Publication

Abai Kunanbaev, the great thinker, enlightener, poet, and composer of the Kazakh people, was born on August 10, 1845 in the Genghis mountains of the Semipalatinsk region 1 . His father, Kunanbai Uskenbaev, was a highly influential elder of the Tobykty Clan, part of the Middle Juz. Abai was educated at home by a mullah, later in the Semipalatinsk madrasah (medrese), and in a Russian school. He studied the Holy Koran, foreign languages, including Arab and Farsi, and read the works of Eastern poets and scientists such as Firdousi, Navoi, and Avicenna. Although a deeply religious man, Abai has also been praised as Kazakhstan’s supreme enlightener.

Abai’s father had high hopes for his son, expecting that one day, he would be his loyal aide in all legal matters relating to other clans, which were often fraught with conflict. To some extent, Abai justified these hopes – he became one of the most famous law experts of his time. However, he was also influenced by classical humanistic ideas and suffered from the unforgiving cruelty of his environment caused by Russian colonial rule and native patriarchal tradition. Among Abai’s Russian acquaintances were several exiled intellectuals whose liberal ideas influenced him. Abai viewed it as his mission to acquaint Kazakhs with the accomplishments of world literature. He rendered some of the best translations of the works of Pushkin, Lermontov, and Krylov, as well as Byron, Goethe, and Heine into the Kazakh language. Another major influence on Abai’s thinking were classical philosophers – Socrates, Plato, Aristotle.

By the age of 35, Abai began to devote serious attention to his own poetry. His poems quickly gained fame throughout the steppes, being spread by word of mouth 2 . But due to Abai’s natural modesty and the questionable status of poets in society, he attributed his works to others, denying that he was the author. Only in the summer of 1886, he signed a poem (“Summer”) with his own name. Eventually, these poems made Abai hugely popular throughout the Kazakh steppes. He introduced a number of new prosodic forms into Kazakh literature, for example, the hexameter. Abai was the first to create a cycle of poems dedicated to the four seasons: “Zhaz” (“Summer”), “Kuz” (“Fall”), “Kys” (“Winter”), and “Zhazgytury” (“Spring”). He also created satirical verses mocking opportunism and kowtowing toward powerful administrators. His long narrative poems such as “Iskander” (dedicated to Alexander the Great), “Mazgud,” and The Legend of Azim,” solidified his reputation as the leading poet of the Kazakh people.

Abai’s  aul  attracted numerous akyns, but also foreigners – including Tatars and Russians – who wanted to witness Abai’s wisdom and artistry first-hand. While handwritten copies of Abai’s works were circulated among readers, it was the akyns who learned them by heart and performed them throughout the country. Abai also was a gifted composer who created tunes for his poems, which made them even more popular. As the great scholar and writer Mukhtar Auezov put it: “He carried his poetry like a burning torch through the gloom of ignorance and prejudice that enveloped the Kazakh steppes, revealing new horizons to his people and the promise of a new dawn.”

A major formative factor in Abai’s upbringing was his contentious relationship with his authoritarian father, whose plan it was to raise Abai as his successor. Kunanbai had four wives who competed against each other. But Abai’s mother, Ulzhan, and his paternal grandmother, Zere, showed Abai the possibility of a life based on values other than power: justice, truth, respect for all human beings, compassion, and mutual help. It was his mother who called him Abai, meaning “the thoughtful one”, rather than Ibrahim, his official first name. And since “thoughtful” was such a fitting description of the boy’s personality, it stuck to him forever.

Abai was a widely respected intellectual whose opinion was valued, including by the Russian administration, especially in legal conflicts. But in his life, he had to face numerous tragedies. He lost two of his sons to tuberculosis in 1895 and in 1904. Struck by grief, his own will to live waned quickly. Abai died on July 6, 1904 and was buried in Zhidebai. In the 1940s and 1950s, Kazakh writer Mukhtar Auezov turned Abai’s life into a four-volume epic, arguably the greatest achievement of Kazakh literature: The Path of Abai (Abai Zholy). Auezov created a veritable encyclopedia of Kazakh culture and customs, unparalleled in its richness and psychological depth. The Kazakh people’s multi-layered nomadic society with its complex relationships, encompassing both time-honored traditions and irrational excesses, is shown through the prism of Abai, a decent man, loyal friend, passionate lover, and deep thinker. This novel is more than a fictionalized biography: it is the portrait of a nation.

As with all great artists, Abai’s legacy has been interpreted differently in each subsequent period. Soviet specialists put the strongest emphasis on the social relevance of his work: whereas in the 1920s, the focus was more on the individualistic and spiritual aspects of his texts, in particular, the suffering of the intellectual in a world that largely disrespects education, in post-Soviet decades, the national specifics of Abai’s oeuvre became prevalent. Reading Abai’s poetic texts today, it is clear that they contain multiple elements and allow for a variety of interpretive approaches, all of which are legitimate in their own way. However, the surest method to understand Abai in a way that is true to his original intentions 3 . It is not an exaggeration to say that any exploration of Kazakhstan without an immersion in the legacy of Abai would be incomplete.

Abai used poetry to capture the atmosphere of the  aul  and the steppe during different times of the year. His cycle on the seasons is particularly remarkable as it deviates from typical perceptions of nature in other national literatures, giving Abai’s poetry an unmistakably Kazakh dimension. “Autumn” (1888), for example, emphasizes darkness and not the celebration of plentiful harvesting, whereas “Winter” reflects existential danger, conveying a unique attitude toward forces of nature that defines the life of Kazakhs for many months. In Abai’s poetic world, winter appears as a person, and it is not a friendly one:

His beetling eyebrows are knit in a frown. When he tosses his head — dismal snow starts to fall. Like a crazy old camel he acts in his rage, Rocking and shaking our yurt’s thin wall. The horses in vain try to shatter the ice — The hungry herd scarcely shuffle their feet, Greedy wolves — winter’s henchmen — have their fangs; Watch, or disaster your flocks may meet! 4

Unlike winter poems in other national literatures, Abai’s points to this season’s deadly consequences for people and animals alike: neither is it associated with the glittering beauty of fresh snow, nor the purity of the blue winter sky, nor the vastness of white fields or the joys of sleighing, skiing, and skating. Instead, Abai shows all the dangers that winter brings. Metaphors, such as wolves acting as “winter’s greedy henchmen,” point to an impending doom, a darkly existential dimension of this season in the Kazakh people’s perception. It seems safe to say that in his nature poetry, Abai is the authentic voice of his nation: he expresses the emotions that he, just like every Kazakh, experiences in his interactions with the forces of life. For the inner tension of these poems it is essential that the auctorial voice is not that of an outside observer. Rather, he and his people are one, his viewpoint is theirs.

Nature often serves as the backdrop for love and passion:

In the silent, luminous night On the water the moonbeams quiver. In the gully beyond the aul Tumultuous, roars the river. The mountains respond in a choir To the shepherd dogs hidden from view. You come in a flowery dress To your midnight rendezvous. At once both bold and meek Full of sweet girlish grace, You furtively look around, Blushes light up your face. Not venturing even to speak With a soft half-sigh, half-groan On tip-toe you rise and press Your trembling lips to my own. 5

In this poem, written in 1888, nature provides shelter, a hideout for the lovers. Human emotions live in harmony with the movements of the trees, the moon, and the river. In this and other love poems, passion is captured as an overwhelming, tormenting, but ultimately gratifying power. The erotic candor of Abai’s love poems is remarkable in itself, demonstrating how the poet fully embraces all aspects of love, including the physical.


In his didactic poems, Abai takes on the role of a teacher of life who explains to his listener, or reader, the rules of which principles they are to follow and which to avoid. The generalizations of these poems appear quite authoritative. However, the arguments expressed to the listener/reader are not normative in the conventional sense, verbalizing officially sanctioned rules for life. Rather, they are derived from what Abai himself learned in life, such as in the following poem written in 1889:

When your mind is as keen and as cold as ice, When hot passions burn in your petulant heart, Both fiery passion and patient thought Must be ruled by the will, lest they stray apart. (…) What use is the mind without passion and will? For a thoughtless heart even midday is dark. Be able to keep all three in accord. Let your will make your heart to your reason hark. 6

The poetic form gives these conclusions a crisp shape but also makes it more persuasive in its didactic purpose.

The Mission of Poetry

In his poetry, Abai often asks himself: why do I use the poetic form in the first place? Who is my target audience? And he answers with a stringently formulated credo:

Not for amusement do I write my verse, Nor do I stuff it full of silly words. It’s for the young I write, for those Whose hearing is acute, whose senses are alert. Men who have vision and are quick to give response Will understand the message in my verse. 7

Abai’s poem confirms his identity as a teacher of life, an identity he has acquired through many hard lessons. Being privy to hearing or reading his poetry is the right of those who are open to those lessons, to shared experiences; those who are eager for entertainment should look elsewhere.

Philosophical questions are at the center of several of Abai’s poems, addressing existential aspects of our life here on Earth and thereafter. One of these poems, written in 1895, begins with a seeming paradox: Nature may be mortal, but humans are not. For a Western reader educated in a rationalistic framework, this is a paradoxical statement, as the opposite seems to be true: human beings exist in the world for a limited time, while nature in its universality will always be there. But Abai’s worldview is rigorously anthropocentric 8 . The supremacy of humanity in the universe, the fundamental respect for human potential and accomplishments turns the relationship around: Nature is mortal, humans are immortal! Abai’s radical reversal of the conventional relationship between humanity and the universe is rarely found in Western poetry; it is hard to say whether this is a demonstration of the primacy of his religious views or whether Abai speaks strictly within a poetic paradigm. Conspicuously, his anthropocentrism has found a continuation in 20th-century Kazakh poetry, for example, in Suleimenov.

Maybe nature is mortal, but man is not. Though there is no coming back When he draws his last breath. The separation of I and Mine Only the ignorant regard as death. (…) This world and the other can’t both be loved. The divine and the earthly must be divorced. But a man’s no believer if he in his heart Loves this world all too much, and the other perforce. 9

Among the central themes in Abai’s poetry is his nation. The Kazakhs are his people, but who are they, what are their values? Whenever Abai ponders these questions, he is a stern judge; his directness in addressing national vices, as he sees them, is both awesome and terrifying.

Oh my luckless Kazakh, my unfortunate kin, An unkempt moustache hides your mouth and chin. Blood on your right cheek, fat on your left — When will the dawn of your reason begin? Your looks are not bad and your numbers are vast, Yet why do you change your favors so fast? You will never listen to sound advice, Your tongue in its rashness is unsurpassed. (…) Kinsmen for trifle each other hate. God bereft them of reason — such is their fate. No honor, no harmony, only dissent; No wonder cattle is scarcer of late. 10

The sternness and directness with which Abai chastises his nation is astonishing; it is hard to think of other poets revered by their nations who would be able to express such critical sentiments. Indeed, there is no hopeful outlook softening his message – the only way the poet can talk to his people is in uncompromising moral certitude, with a candor that is almost merciless. The fact that the Kazakh nation nonetheless loves Abai reveals a willingness to put up with harsh words as long as they are perceived as truthful.

Autobiographical Motifs

When Abai speaks about himself, his will to verbalize the experiences of his life with utmost honesty outweighs any other consideration. This is particularly true of a number of Abai’s poems that sum up the results of his life struggles, drawing a balance of what he has realized over the years. Such is the poem “It pains me now.”

It pains me now to realize that I have tinkered With nature’s gifts and lived my life in vain. I thought myself one of the rarest thinkers, But empty is my fame… Alas, I have no aim. Inconstancy and idleness are our greatest banes. We put no faith in loyalty of friends. Our warmth of feeling all too quickly wanes, We cool too soon: a trifling hurt offends. I have no one to love now, and no friend. In disillusionment I turned to writing verse. When I was sure in heart, how without end, How fascinating seemed the universe! My soul craves friendship, seeks it daily, My heart is aching for it, and while I Have never known a friend who’d not betray me, I sing a hymn to friendship for all time! 11

It is this uncompromising honesty about himself that earned Abai the right to judge his own people with unrelenting candor.

Abai harbored no illusions about humankind. He describes human behavior as dominated by greed, dishonesty, contempt for others, pride, and ignorance. But he insists that these same human beings, both as individuals and as a nation, are free to make moral choices. He knows human nature; he has observed it keenly and studied it deeply. He shares his insights, hard to accept though they may be, with those who are willing to accept harsh truths. These human beings can opt for the values that Abai holds dearly: education and knowledge, respect and decency, truth and honesty, peace and love. That is the message of Abai, Kazakhstan’s greatest thinker, an inconvenient sage. Because Abai’s poetry addresses such a wide array of themes, from nature and love to life, death, and the character flaws of the nation, it seems fair to say that Abai is a poet for all seasons. His universality, sensitivity, and truthfulness explain why Abai’s poetic legacy is alive and dear to Kazakh readers today.

  • The region has been renamed Abai district, part of the Eastern Kazakhstani oblast.  ↩
  • Only much later did Mursent Bekin write down Abai’s poems.  ↩
  • This article deals exclusively with Abai’s poetry, not his major prose work, Words (Gaklii, 1890-1898), which will be the subject of another publication.  ↩
  • Translated by Dorian Rottenberg; cf. Abai Kunanbayev, Selected Poems. Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1970, p. 58.  ↩
  • Translated by Dorian Rottenberg, op. cit., p. 60.  ↩
  • Translated by Dorian Rottenberg, op. cit., p. 76.  ↩
  • Translated by Olga Shartse, op. cit., p. 74.  ↩
  • In his opposition to a rationalist approach, he was followed by Olzhas Suleimenov’s poetic worldview: “Earth, bow down to Man [i.e., humankind]!” [Zemlia, poklonis’ cheloveku!”] (1961).  ↩
  • Translated by Dorian Rottenberg, op. cit., p. 133.  ↩
  • Translated by Dorian Rottenberg, op. cit., p. 32.  ↩
  • Translated by Olga Shartse, op. cit., p. 44.  ↩

Peter Rollberg

Peter Rollberg

Peter Rollberg is Professor of Slavic Languages, Film Studies, and International Affairs and Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs and Research Initiatives at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs. Rollberg studied at Lomonosov University in Moscow and at the University of Leipzig where he earned his Ph.D. in 1988. His main field of expertise is Russian literature and film, as well as Georgian and Kazakh cinema. In 1996, Rollberg published volume 10 of The Modern Encyclopedia of East Slavic, Baltic, and Eurasian Literatures (Academic International Press) and in 1997, a festschrift in honor of Charles Moser, entitled And Meaning for a Life Entire. His Historical Dictionary of Russian and Soviet Cinema was published in 2009 (second, enlarged edition 2016).

kazakh literature essay

“Eternal Values in the Work of the Great Abai”: An Essay Contest among the Kazakh Students

kazakh literature essay

Kazakh Graphic Illustrations of Evgeny Sidorkin

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Kazakhstan has rich oral tradition of epic poems, ballads and verse tales performed in songs call “kyui, “by traveling storytellers called “zhyrsy”, and improvisational poets and musicians called “akyns”. The songs are often about heroic horsemen or lonely shepherds and about battles between Kazakhs and Kalmyks and other rivals in the 16th century.

Epic poems and songs have traditionally been handed orally from generation to generation. Recitals and contests known as “aitys “with akyn were popular forms of entertainment in the old days and are featured events at many festivals and gatherings today. The most well known akyn is Zhambyl Zhabayev. There is a statue of him in Almaty on Dostyk.

Dostoyevsky was exiled to Kazakhstan. He spent five years doing forced military service in the city of Semey, near the place that became a nuclear testing area. He began writing “The Brothers Karamazov” there.

Famous storytellers and improvisational poets include Bukharzhyrau Kalmakanov (1693-1787), Makhambet Utemisov (1803-1846) and his friend Isatay Taymanobe, the leader of the Kazakh uprising in the Bukeevsky Horde in 1836-1837. Among the other famous literary figures are Ibray Altynsaron (1841-1889), Saken Seyfuluin (1894-1939), Beymbet Maylin (1894-1939), Akhmet Baytursunov, Djambul Djabayev and Mukhtar Auezov (1897-1968, author of the epic novel “The Path of Abay”), the novelists Nuroeisov and Esenberlin.

See Separate Articles CULTURE AND THE ARTS IN KAZAKHSTAN factsanddetails.com ; MUSIC AND DANCE IN KAZAKHSTAN factsanddetails.com ;See Culture Under KAZAKHS IN CHINA: HISTORY AND CULTURE factsanddetails.com

Traditional Kazakh Literature

Kazakhs have a rich literary heritage. As there were many illiterates, folk literature handed down orally was quite developed, and includes myths, legends, folk stories, narrative poems, long love poetry, ballads and proverbs, among which, long poetry is especially outstanding. By some reckonongs, there are more than 200 Kazakh long poems. "Akens" have made great efforts to collect, study and re-create old verses, tales, proverbs, parables and maxims. Many outstanding Kazakh classic and contemporary works have been published in the Kazakh language. |

Because of the Kazakhs' nomadic lifestyle and their lack of a written language until the mid-nineteenth century, their literary tradition relies upon oral histories. These histories were memorized and recited by the akyn , the elder responsible for remembering the legends and histories, and by jyrau , lyric poets who traveled with the high-placed khans. Most of the legends concern the activities of a batir , or hero-warrior. A popular Kazakh fable is about a mythical bird Samruk, which lays a golden egg each year in a poplar tree. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

Primary sources of Kazakh literature are the epics "Alyp Er Tonga" and "Shu Batir," reportedly created in ancient times. The Kazakhstan government dubiously claims they were created in “11.3 centuries B.C.” and claims “scientific studies proved that the events described in them are closely connected with the ancient history of the Kazakh people. Old-Turkic written documents showed that the Turkic tribes of the art word is poetic force, depth of thought and richness of content.” [Source: VisitKazakhstan.kz, Official tourism website of Kazakhstan]

Among the tales that have survived are Koblandy-batir (fifteenth or sixteenth century), Er Sain (sixteenth century), and Er Targyn (sixteenth century), all of which concern the struggle against the Kalmyks; Kozy Korpesh and Bain sulu , both epics; and the love lyric Kiz-Jibek . Usually these tales were recited in a song-like chant, frequently to the accompaniment of such traditional instruments as drums and the dombra , a mandolin-like string instrument. President Nazarbayev has appeared on television broadcasts in the republic, playing the dombra and singing. *

Kazakh Aken Singers

Kazakhs have a long tradition of informal recitation of folklore and improvised narrative singing performed by bards, accompanied by a two -stringed, apricot-wood instrument called the “komuz”. The Kyrgyzs have a similar tradition except they use a three-string instrument.

An “aken”, or “bakshy”, is the musical title given to the bards who mastered the art of improvised narrative singing. In the old days aken acted as shaman, healers and passed on history, myths and clan stories and genealogies and commented on moral and political issues of the day. They were famous for philosophizing and reeling off verses hours at a time about subjects ranging from the wonders of the universe to the pleasures of drinking koumiss. They were skilled at using old stories and legends to make thinly veiled editorials about current leaders and figures.

"Aken" have traditionally been like minstrels: folk actors that recited poems, epics and myths and played instruments and sing. They are regarded as the keepers, spreaders and creators of folk art. A Kazakh proverb goes: "Aken cannot live to be a thousand years old, but his songs can be spread for a thousand years." Aken are expected to have rich knowledge, abundant enthusiasm, a vivid imagination and the ability to sing in an impromptu and improvisational style that addresses contemporary issues and the character of the ausience watching him. Their songs are vivid and lively. Some aken write lengthy narrative poems, short folk songs and narrative songs. The best Aken forge their own style, sing impromptu songs in a loud and clear singing voice, with incomparable wisdom, accompanied by the Dombra. Listeners feel like they are hearing the flow of a river and the galloping of horses and experiencing life on the steppe. The rhythm of many songs is meant to duplicate movements of their horses. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities ~]

Famous “aken” include the Kyrgyzs Togolok Moldo, Sayakbay Karalayev and Sagymbay Orozabakov, and the Kazakh Jamboul Jabayev. The later was born in 1846 and lived to be 99. He was known throughout the Soviet Union and was declared “the patriarch of folk poets.”

See Separate Article AKYN AND MUSIC IN KYRGYZSTAN AND KAZAKHSTAN factsanddetails.com

Abai Kunanbaev

The philosopher and poet Ibrahim “Abai” Kunanbaev (1845-1904) is one the most well known figures in Kazakhstan. He has been chosen as unifier in Kazakhstan the same way that Tamerlane has been in Uzbekistan, Genghis Khan has been in Mongolia and Pushkin has been in Russia. He is credited with launching Kazakh as a literary language and inspiring generations of writers and poets. Ever 5th-grade schoolchild can sing a song composed by him.

Kunanbaev was born in the village of Kaskabulak in the Shyngghystau hills area of eastern Kazakhstan He spent much of his life in Semey and died in Zhidebai. He was also a musician, translator and politician. He translated many famous Russian works and Western classics such as “The Three Musketeers “into Kazakh. His own poetry was inspired by ancient Kazakh epics and folk tales from the steppe. It was said that his work sounded best when he read it.

Kunanbaev’s poetry has been described as economical and precise. He “celebrated the natural world around, the dramatic sequence of the seasons and the spiritual inheritance of Central Asian sufism.”

Kunanbaev’s Philosophy

Kunanbaev was known for candidly expressing his feelings and doubts. He believed that it was the duty of every human being to perform good deeds and aspire for noble goals but often expressed his disappointment in humanity for not embracing these simple principals and not showing more strength in the fight against evil.

In his most famous work “A Book of Words”, Kunanbaev wrote: “My life might be good or bad but I have gone a long way—through struggles and quarrels, conflicts and disputes, sufferings and worries, I have lived to an old age...Worn out and satisfied with everything, I discovered the futility and transience of my deeds and became aware of the humility of my being. What should I do now, how should I live out the rest of my life? My difficulty lies in my inability to answer this question.”

Kunanbaev was thoroughly Russified. He once wrote, “Study Russian culture and art—it is the key to life. If you obtain it, your life will become easier.” After his death, Kunanbaev was out of favor with Soviet authorities and was condemned as feudal and backward. Later he was resurrected as both a unifier of the Kazakhs and as a Kazakh who loved Russia culture. There are museums devoted to him in Semey and Zhidebai. Kunanbaev has had a number of institutions named after him such as the Abai State Academic Theater of Opera and Ballet.

Soviet-Era Literary Figures

Important figures of the early stages of Kazakh nationalist self-assertion, including novelist Anuar Alimzhanov, who became president of the last Soviet Congress of People's Deputies, and poets Mukhtar Shakhanov and Olzhas Suleymenov (Oljas Suleimenov), who were copresidents of the political party Popular Congress of Kazakhstan. Shakhanov also chaired the commission that investigated the events surrounding the riots of December 1986. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

An even more powerful figure than Shakhanov, Suleymenov in 1975 became a pan-Central Asian hero by publishing a book, Az i Ia , examining the Lay of Igor's Campaign , a medieval tale vital to the Russian national culture, from the perspective of the Turkic Pechenegs whom Igor defeated. Soviet authorities subjected the book to a blistering attack. Later Suleymenov used his prestige to give authority to the Nevada-Semipalatinsk antinuclear movement, which performed the very real service of ending nuclear testing in Kazakhstan. He and Shakhanov originally organized their People's Congress Party as a pro-Nazarbayev movement, but Suleymenov eventually steered the party into an opposition role. In the short-lived parliament of 1994-95, Suleymenov was leader of the Respublika opposition coalition, and he was frequently mentioned as a possible presidential candidate. Suleymenov wrote in Russian.

According to the Kazakhstan government: “In the 1920s, the process of formation of prose in Kazakhstan took place. B. Mailin, M. Auezov, S. Seifullin, I. Zhansugurov, S. Mukanov, S. Sharipov, J. Tlepbergenov, G. Musrepov, Mustafin, U. Turmanzhanov, E. Bekenov and others wrote stories, essays , novels. They found the appropriate realistic colors to create bright human images, characters, portraits of characters. Novels by I. Shukhov — "Bitter Line" (1931; in the Kazakh language in 1972, translated A. Ospanova) and "Hate" (1932, translated H. Esenzhanova)— are significant works of modern literature of that period in the genre of the novel.

“During the World War II era the novel AA Beck "Volokolamsk Highway" (1943) established the heroic images of B. Momyshuly, I. Panfilov. In the postwar period, he published the novel "The Face of the Sun" I (Shukhov (1950) . VD Vanyushina (1952) wrote the novel "Wings of Song" (1959), which reflected the socio-historical position of Kazakhstan in previous 20 years, reflected in th formation and development of national art created in images of talented artists (I. Baizakov, A. Kashaubaev, K. Munaitpas, AV . Zataevicha etc.). I.G. Shchegolikhina wrote in the novel "Snowstorm" (1961). GV Chernogolovinoy wrote "Nedozhdlivoe time" and the novel "Risk Zone" (1981). In the novel,"Commissioner Zhangildin" M.D, Simashko created a vivid image of the Kazakh people. Dm. Snegina in dilogii wrote "In the Morning and at Noon" (1976, 1982), expanding the boundaries of historical subjects. Acclaimed poets included VA Antonov, AK Elkov, DE Ryabukha, LV Skalkovsky, FA Morgun, VA Smirnov, MI Chistyakov et al.

Kazakhstan Crackdown on Human Hobbits

In 2001, fans of J.R.R. Tolkien, some of whom like to dress up and pretend they were hairy-footed hobbits or othe r”Lord of the Rings” characters, were the subject of police crackdown on "counter-cultural groups".Craig Nelson wrote in The Telegraph, “The peaks of the Tian Shen Mountains which tower over Almaty, the main city in Kazakhstan, offer an impressive representation of Middle Earth, the world created by Tolkien. An estimated 1,000 local aficionados of the British author, who call themselves Tolkienisti, trek regularly to forts they have built in the foothills, dress up as their favourite characters and re-enact adventures based on The Hobbit and the subsequent trilogy, The Lord of the Rings. "I find city life so crude and gloomy. I want to get away from it and create a different world," one 17-year-old said of Tolkien's allure. "When I look at other kids who hang out with nothing to do and no interests in life, I feel sad. Their lives seem so empty." [Source: Craig Nelson, The Telegraph, August 26, 2001 ***]

“The pastime, however, is viewed as subversive by Almaty police, whose ranks include veterans of the old communist security forces and rural Kazakhs who have never heard of the Oxford professor and his creations. They have launched a campaign against the Tolkienisti, and any group that they believe exhibits undesirably "Bohemian" traits, including street musicians, "alternative" artists and homosexuals. Victims of the crackdown have been beaten and detained for up to three days without charge, according to a report by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting. One victim, the leader of a well-known punk rock bank was forced to squat in a jail cell less than 5ft high and half-filled with water. ***

“The most frequent form of harassment is less severe, said the 17-year-old Tolkienist, who spoke on condition of anonymity. She said Tolkien enthusiasts were stopped in the street and ordered to remove their costumes and surrender their rubber axes and home-made wooden swords. The threat of a three-day detention on charges of carrying a concealed weapon is used to extract a bribe of up to £2.80, - a large sum by the standards of Kazakhstan. The young woman, an art student, denied that the Tolkienisti posed any criminal or political threat. "The police and soldiers stop us because we are different. They believe if you are different from everyone else you are against everyone else," she said. ***

“Erbol Jumagulov, an Almaty journalist and a co-author of the IWPR report, blames the wave of harassment on a clash of cultures. The junior ranks of the police and army are burgeoning with non-Russian speaking, ethnic Kazakhs who have flocked to urban centres. They have little experience of people who dress and act differently to what they are accustomed. Furthermore, Mr Jumagulov said, the police and soldiers are products of Kazakhstan's rigidly conformist police and military academies, where hazing (brutal initiation rites) is routine. ***

“The resulting mixture is volatile. "They hit the streets and see people dressed in an eccentric way and they want revenge. Or, they're simply envious," he said. The Kazakh embassy in Moscow refused to comment on allegations of brutality by Kazakh security forces. Tolkien's world of elves, dwarves, orcs and hobbits comprises one of the most treasured series of books ever written. It has sold more than 90 million copies worldwide since the first appeared in 1937. The books were translated into Russian in 1976, quickly becoming enormously popular throughout the Soviet Union.” ***

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated April 2016

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The High Window

Contemporary kazakh poetry.

kazakh literature essay


kazakh literature essay

I would like to express my thanks to Cambridge University Press and The National Bureau of Translations (Kazakhstan) for kindly allowing The High Window to publish these translations. I would also like to thank Belinda Cooke for her help in curating this supplement. The extract from Ilias Jansugurov‘s epic poem is taken from the edition published by NBT. The remaining versions here have been selected from Contemporary Kazakh Literature: Poetry (Cambridge University Press. 2019), an anthology which is part of Rukhani Zhangyru , an initiative designed by the First President of Kazakhstan. Futher details will be found here .

The editor.

Ilias Jansugurov • Olzhas Suleimenov • Mukhtar Shakhanov • Akushtap Bakhtygereyeva • Kulash Akhmetova • Valeriy Mikhailov • Nadezhda Chernova • Yessengali Raushanov • Gulnar Salyqbay •  Aliya Dauletbayeva • Yerlan Zhunis • Tanakoz Tolkynkyzy • Nazira Berdaly  

The Translators

Belinda Cooke • Roza Kudabayeva • Patricia McCarthy • Alistair Noon • David Cooke

Previous Translations

THW 14: June 17, 2019  THW 13 March 20, 2019   

THW 12 December 10, 2018    THW 11  September 5, 2018

THW 10:  May 21, 2018   THW 9 : March 7, 2018

THW 8:  December 6, 2017   THW 7: September 10, 2017

xxxxxx THW6:   June 3, 2017   THW5: March 7, 2017                

THW4: December 6, 2016   THW3:  September 1, 2016    

THW2: June 1, 2016  THW1: March 1, 2016

Ilias Jansugurov: Extract from Kulager translated by Belinda Cooke

Ilias Jansugurov’s  poem Kulager , ostensibly the true story of the poet Akan, whose beloved horse Kulager is killed in a race by a rival, is a thinly disguised allegory of the destiny of many writers in Kazakhstan. The narrative unfolds within an authentic and rich portrayal of the now lost Kazakh nomadic society with all its traditions of public events and everyday life in its mountains, lakes and steppe and their abundant overflowing of poetry and music. 

kazakh literature essay

Born in the mountains among rocks, with ice as my bed, and snow my battleground. Shepherding lambs in Arshaly, I grew up touching the clouds in the sky.

Glittering white jewel, Aktasty, on the jagged heights of Jonke eagles screaming in the skies beneath – my motherland.

And so I am a Kazakh who loves mountains, unable to endure the life of the plains. My Almaty at the heart of Alatau, blows a breeze of songs and kuis.

All my life I have praised these mountains: the Himalayas, Caucasus, Jonke, Altai, Alai. A medley of giants so much part of me, how can I leave them out of my heart and songs?

My poem draws on these mountain peaks enduring as a mountain spring, save one mountain rich in stories, a bubbling source as yet untapped.

O rich green forest, idyllic drowsiness… this lake, a beauty’s eyes, their snow-covered glitter of gravel, coral, agate and pearl, rustling there on the lake’s shore.

The green ripening carpet is spellbound. Green silk leaves are in full blossom. White snow sugar pours from the sky – straightaway honey springs carve through rocks.

Why look for beautiful mountains elsewhere, when we have so many of our own? I am always proud to praise them but now is the time for Kokshetau.

Okjetpes rises glaringly before us, a bulging breast swung up into the sky, its high cliffs, rocky caves, and camel-sized rocks, all carefully placed around the lake.

Kokshetau does not battle with the sky, unlike the treacherous Caucasus: Khantaniri, Altai and Jonke, snow-blocked, impenetrable and pathless.

No, Kokshetau is paradise on earth, nurturing its own beauty in this endless steppe. This generous mountain is hospitable and gentle, a healer curing all disease.

Ilyas Jansugurov (1894 – 1938) lived through a time of tempestuous change. His youth was dictated and enriched by nomadic traditions, but the Revolution and subsequent Stalinist regime, meant he, like other intellectuals had to absorb Russian language and culture both to survive as well as represent their country. Discussions on social struggle in the Kazakh context were central to this. He rose in the literary ranks and was first president of the Writers’ Union of Kazakhstan from 1934-1936.  However, his writing increasingly expressed criticism of the regime and he was repressed in 1937 and shot the following year.

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kazakh literature essay


Language of our fathers, ancient language, time has transformed you to fired clay. The blow of your sword, the whistle of your lash, you contain male pride and female passion.

You express the forgotten dialects of Sumerians and Huns, the wheeze of Mongolian words, Where were you born? In the fires of seven languages? You travel to us through our veins.

And you can be heard filling your body with a blow to the heart, a ringing of souls. I wouldn’t exchange one word of my fate. I swear I will come to you.

Thus from distant, happy travels, this son returns to his forgotten father, all dressed up in bright expensive attire, if not at the start of his life then the end.

A man was walking the steppe. On and on he walked. Where was he going and why? It is not for us to know. Deep in the hollow he saw a wolf, a she-wolf, a mother to be precise … She lay there panting and trembling in the thicket undergrowth, paws thrown back and teeth bared, blood thick as dirt streaming from her throat, Who could possibly have done this— a wolf? A pack of hounds? No way her blind wolf cubs could know, jostling and growling there as they sucked from this immense intractible mother. The hungry wolf cubs forgot how powerfully the dill smelt in the undergrowth, they nestled up to their mother, her thick blood growing cold, yet greedily they drank it doing all they could to ease their thirst. And with the mother’s blood they sucked revenge, as blind as the cubs themselves. They must find someone to hate. Who? Anyone. Only they must be sure not to forgive but they must do it alone, and together, though when they meet up they will take vengeance on each other… The man walked his road No need for us to know where or why. He was a hunter of wolves, but he didn’t touch the wolf cubs —

The mother no longer protected them.


The bridge is pretending to be a black rainbow, The rain is pretending to be London rain. They clap their hands. but he is not happy: a slapping of wet soles. The disease is pretending to be flu. This woman is playing hard to get The door opens with a creak. The door closes with a knock. The man is pretending to be an ordinary person – but he’s not very good at it … just a bit too much of a ne’er-do-well… I wish I was able to pretend to be the Prince of Denmark … You, there, what would you advise? You agree that talent is to be able to pretend … So how can you pretend to be sad if you already are See these faces? They have a desperate resilience. Surely they will be sad. But these people won’t retreat. They hug you till they crack your ribs, and sit on a chair with a bang. We are unhappy, and you like it. How condescending and evil is that. We are sullen to make you happy. We are sad so you can be lucky. Tired to death of acting, you open your door like a thief. You sleep and dream of applause. … In the courtyard, someone is beating a blanket with a stick.

Olzhas Suleimenov (b. 1936) is a poet, literary scholar, politician and anti-nuclear activist. He has been an editor in film and publishing, secretary of the Writers’ Union of Kazakhstan and chairman of the Kazakh SSR State Committee on Cinematography. He also served as the ambassador of the Republic of Kazakhstan to Rome and to UNESCO. Suleimenov’s most influential work, AZi-Ya , appeared in 1975 and since then he has published numerous other important titles. He has been awarded the Lenin Komsomol Prize (Kazakh SSR), the State Prize of the Kazakh SSR, the USSR Komsomol Prize, and a number of other state and international prizes, orders and medals.

kazakh literature essay


Terrible to admit, almost all of us should be afraid of ourselves above everything… I remember how a few years ago, staying in the Himalayas I once met a tiger hunter: ‘Just imagine you are walking along the side of a mountain deep in of the forest and suddenly, unexpectedly out of nowhere right in front of you there is a striped tiger with terrible predatory eyes. What are you going to do?’ he asked me. Somewhat taken aback, I shrugged my shoulders. ‘The main thing,’ — he continued, ‘is to stand firm and to look him straight in the eyes and not to bend. That’s your only chance. For if you go on all fours like an animal, then that’s your lot — you’ve had it! He’ll be on you in a trice like a coiled spring with one powerful leap…’ And scientists are puzzled. Why does the tiger hate it when a man takes on the look of an animal? Even God created tigers in such a noble form to inspire humans to be like them. So when I see some individual bowed down and fawning, I see red – I want to jump on him like a tiger. In Almaty, where I spent my youth, the wife of a powerful businessman from high society, was flaunting her beautiful, gold-striped fur coat, bragging about the fact that she was wearing the pelt of the very last tiger of the Himalayan mountains. I just didn’t want to believe what she was saying. The Himalayas are immense, multi-faceted, and mysteriously wise – If there are no tigers left, then the mountains have died. You should read the thoughts of the creator in the eyes of the tiger.

Mukhtar Shakhanov (b. 1942) is a poet and public figure. He is well known for leading the commission on the Jeltoqsan Tragedy, the rigidly suppressed Kazakh youth upheaval against Soviet rule in 1986, and for raising awareness of the need to protect the Aral Sea. He has had numerous prominent roles as a political figure. He is currently editor-in-chief of Jalyn journal and the leader of the Tauelsizdikti Qorghau People’s Movement. He has published almost twenty books and has also written plays. His works have been translated into some sixty foreign languages.

kazakh literature essay


Night distances, filled with winter silence. Eyes grow tired from the intense light.

The flash of dawn is still not close. Joyfully we head home with you, loathe to leave from visiting friends in this time of celebration.

Houses, woods and road, uniting everything and everyone — gradually shrouding with blinding thick snow.

Snow. Snow! Year on year we do our part and wait for it. And here it lies, gift of nature, on our shoulders — like one of our own,

its tracks under the poplar’s canopy — I was ablaze because you were beside me, my fluffy headscarf all the more fluffy and warm from the snow.

Was it the beginning of spring – the day you kissed me for the first time? Maybe that’s why I forgot about the winter, forgot to shake off the snow when I came home…

…not one word, you didn’t let me realise this so you would shake off the snow. Snowflakes rested on my shoulders then slipped to the floor.

As if burnt by a sudden flame, I felt afraid, despaired. It seemed that my silk dress was slipping from my shoulders…


What brings you to the steppe? A mystery, given there’s no sea here. Tear-filled grief seems to lie in your eyes — Could it be you are also in love?

What troubles lie in your breast you circling lost alone, wings so heavy, across the steppe? Could it be you are also in love?

What sadness weighs down your eyes? What wounds have scarred you? What strength let you circle half the world? Could it be you are also in love?

White-winged spirit of blue expanse, will you always be so free? – What winds drive you across the hills? Could it be you are also in love?

Akushtap Bakhtygereyeva (b.1944) has worked in publishing and film, and is currently head of the literary association Qalamger, and chairperson of the West Kazakhstan branch of the Writers’ Union of Kazakhstan. She has written several collections of poems and published two volumes of selected poems; some of her works have been translated into Russian. She is also the author of lyrics for numerous popular songs, and has translated many Russian poets into Kazakh.

Kulash Akhmetova : Poem translated by Belinda Cooke

kazakh literature essay


Or when they ask you: ‘How many languages do you speak?’ When inspiration comes to me and each word burns as if on fire, suddenly I know all words, speaking in tongues, even to birds – to the snow itself, as it flashes past me like a blue shadow.

My love, don’t argue with me right now — a flash of inspiration and I subdue the storm. I understand all feeling — Petrarch inclining to Laura, Byron in the rustle of the garden.

My verses rise with the flowers, in tune with the Russian oak forests: Rossini’s music is created from the birds in the sky – I can magic his music into words.

I translate from all the languages of the earth. Can comprehend the heart and soul, I seek to grasp the forest’s rustling, the smoke rising falteringly over bonfires – all will gain in me the living word.

I will give language to the forest and mountain valleys. With the strength of words I can smash metal. Like the night, like the very cores of the high stars, and I understand the soul of someone close to me, and the bright mind of a stranger. . I understand the movements of pure rivers, and the bush in flame. I possess all languages of the world with my heart, but I respond to the world – in Kazakh.

Kulash Akhmetova (b. 1946) has worked for newspapers and in publishing and is the author of more than twenty collections of poetry. Akhmetova’s early poetry is highly regarded for its portrayal of the psychology and status of women.  Some of her later poems  reflect more on issues of national identity, although they still present her as a lyric poet. Her works have been translated into several languages. She has also translated into Kazakh verses by Bengali, Russian and Lithuanian poets.

kazakh literature essay

The lantern rocked and creaked, alone in the inaudible snowstorm, the snow flew and flew and flew — higher and higher and higher.

In the dark, in the lacklustre sky, a milky light shone. In the dead of night at the gates the lantern groaned in the wind.

A world so strange, so strange, so strange, snow coming up to the roofs, our own house flew in from heaven — closer and closer and closer.

Deep in my soul, deep in my soul, somehow it had got lost. No windows or doors in it, only funnels of light.


Along the country road forsaken by God, in that steppe, where there is nothing but feather grass, I stroll mindlessly along, barefoot, hearing the tender dust.

Feather grasses are brooms clinging to the wind. For a hundred versts not a village in sight. What do I care for lies circling the world. How this golden dust is warm!

In this land forsaken by God, perhaps the greatest kindness would be to allow you to roam the field for an hour, barefoot in the dust, like a light-bay horse.

While the clouds keep away, the dust is gentle, the sun-filled light is warm. I would happily stroll indifferent to meaning – futile to look for it where there is none.


Blue fences, grey houses. Although the locks are weak, it’s still a prison. Black sheep, like a red-brown camel in smoke. Along the steppe people are scattered by a heavy sky. In the dull heat haze the ages are melting. Here, since birth they have dragged on like a life sentence. You know, there is such a desert all around… Where can one find one’s fate? The grey poles are like a cordon.

Stately and tall, the clay brick of the town of the dead flowered in the neighbourhood. Dusty mazars are dumb and blind, their crescent moons drinking the empty sky.

The tearing wind shakes the weed grass…. Is it a dream or a waking reality? A train will pass through — and all that is there, is a funeral moon, a telegraph pole.


And it shall come to pass, when I bring a cloud over the earth, then my rainbow will appear in the clouds, and I will remember my covenant, which is between me and you …

Gen. 9, 14-15

Once, just the once, I saw a winter rainbow… The snowstorm raged furiously in cascades of whirling snow. The frost fiercely detested all the world, right to the heavens, when suddenly, brightly lit, it climbed over the dead steppe.

It was on an early morning at a stop near Majkudyk, where hunger once tortured the exiled more powerfully than hell, where ever since the earth has seemed to groan, xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx estranged and hollow where the black hands of the dead, crying for mercy, stick out of the snow.

‘I will present you with my rainbow …’ — the wind blows icy cold, ‘… that it was a sign of the covenant … — (who will understand this?), ‘… between me and the earth … — and no one noticed this winter rainbow as the people hurried to work.

The cramped, long-awaited bus crawled along…: one or two got off, one squeezed on… The snowstorm whirled more intensely and burned with frost to the ground This rainbow was in the sky a while as a brief interlude in compliment to the season — till it disappeared — perhaps due to a cloud of snow from the snowstorm.

I only think of one thing when I remember the winter rainbow, in that steppe where my flesh and blood were lost. If hell on earth is the path to heavenly paradise, did God send this colourful vision of light for those dying in winter? …

Note : Mazars   – mausoleums for distinguished figures of the past. Majkudyk : a village in the Karagandy regtion that suffered greatly in the famine of the 1930s.

Valeriy Mikhailov (b. 1946) is a poet, prose writer, publicist, and literary critic. He worked in mass media for over forty years. He has published numerous poetry collections, while his most much-acclaimed prose text, on Kazakhstan’s famine in the 1930s, has been translated into Kazakh, German and English. He has also written biographies of Russian poets as well as a book of literary portraits of Kazakh literary figures. He has translated several books from Kazakh into Russian and is a member of the Writers’ Unions of both Russia and Kazakhstan.

kazakh literature essay


All day, all night, he’s up there on the roof, whether or not a storm is on the rise. The hot air breathes. The sand is on the move. The salt gnaws at his insomniac eyes.

Below, the mountain village lives and dies, bears fruit again. It bathes in sand. The saltwort drowns the rounded kilns. What paradise it is to own a house of mud, it’s thought.

He sits immobile on that flat roof, though, his eyes fixed on a blue blur in the distance, the living sea xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx that left an age ago, out there beyond the wall of midday mist.

He knows his tackle hasn’t rotted, so he’s waiting, and his low-hulled boat’s still sound. Time’s on a different watch. Governments blow from other shores, the old life’s burnt to the ground. All this bustling around! Like ash flung from an urn, it’ll all fly off and settle on the seabed. The sea is timeless, it’s got to return. He keeps his eyes set on it, straight ahead.


These cousins in fate have strong rapport, these two white horses that rush through the mist. Neither will fall for the noose any more. Try shouting, they’ll raise their legs and resist.

Their consonantal trot is inspired, the pair of them breaks the air as they go. Who’ll fall first on the wild grass when tired? Who’ll singe their lips on the year’s first snow?

In autumn dawns, whose call is that loud when keeping the sky in sight is a slog? A pair of stars among restless clouds, these two white horses that fly through the fog.

These two white horses that fly through the mist, relentlessly following on at our heels, across the land where crops don’t exist. And an eerie joy’s what my spirit feels…


A strange kind of wish we have here, to grasp at a moment’s picture of a tomtit, a cloud, or a deer, then flick through our pages even quicker.

My only begotten, are you a calfskin scroll, worn through, or writing scratched on clay that’s starting to crumble away?

But maybe at least a page, a verse or a word will be saved among the ash and dry dust. From the skies, fire falls in waves, mute, and talking in tongues.

Not knowing its worth, the Creator sets fire to His earth so often you can’t keep up. He turns our pages in the wind. He doesn’t stop. He doesn’t tire.


What happens is going to happen, there’s nothing I’m bitter about. I’ve had such heaps of happiness, my mind can’t sort them all out.

Did you ever see bitterness bend all the way down to the ground? Oh all my bitter tears are gone, they’re ocean-bound –

and there, they’ll descend and settle in the light and quiet on that floor to grow a pearl the size of a grain of sand, in a jaw.

Nadezhda Chernova (b. 1947) is a poet, novelist, translator and critic. She has worked for various mass media and creative organisations and as a journal and publishing house editor. The prime subject of her poems is Kazakh history and traditions. Being a Russian writer with an excellent knowledge of Kazakh, she delivers the unique music and tone of the Kazakh language in her notable Dva Yazyka ( Two Languages ). Her poems and prose have been published in many journals in Kazakhstan, the former USSR countries and further afield. She has also translated works by foreign poets into Russian.

kazakh literature essay


Shadows die at dusk, Because they should die anyway. A riverside darkens, it becomes pitch black, As if it swallowed thick blood.

Steppe is darkened too, as if soaked in blood. Deaf universe, Let me listen to you too. Like a widow in a black shawl, A lonely birch tree gave its shadow to the earth.

Sorry, my brother, I’m not the one to blame, A silent green sprout sobs shaking its head. I buried them and came back today, But nobody expressed any condolences to me.

The Auyl lies in a hollow next to a hill, Why does the Sun stand still all in flames? My grandmother is in my thoughts, A war swallowed her husband, a son and two brothers at once.

The Moon rises with the swollen face, A road runs into the dense thicket. …Tonight I won’t be able to sleep again, Dead souls coming into my dreams.


‘Here the people died’. This black and wild mound, silently wheezes. The world is wretched, like in November, and is deaf to the offence, in spite of reproach after reproach. Only the sand covers up the past misfortune: River beds dried up amidst the weeds… Cattle died from hunger in this terrible year… After the cattle it was man’s turn to perish. The whirlwind lifts the sand…, You see there the thick locks of a dead girl, the sand’s plantain entwines them in longing, all the while admiring her past beauty. She was young. She was alive… A zhighit flew up to her on his horse, that watched snorting to the side, his bit between his teeth…. and their hearts burned, as in a fire. Golden words, rang of love, the braid entwining her supple figure… Plantain-grass… Plantain-grass… Plantain-grass… Kazakhstan…

Note : auyl :  a rural settlement; zhigit: generally denotes a 25-40 year-old man. It can be used as an honorific denoting courage, fortitude and being true to one’s word.

Yessengali Raushanov  (b. 1957) has held senior positions at several journals and now runs the Jazushy publishing house. His poem ‘Qara Bauyr Qasqaldaq’ has become an anthem for the young Kazakhs, who rose up against Russian dictatorship in 1986. His poetry is distinctive because of the natural way he absorbs Kazakh folklore into his poetry. Raushanov has also written a novel. His ornithological essay collection has been translated into Russian, Uzbek and Kyrgyz. He has translated a book of poems by Uzbek poet Khamza Niyazi into Kazakh.

kazakh literature essay

Waiting for you is like adding pepper to honey, Like asking a smiling Midday to wait for the Moon, Waiting for you is like placing an ice cube into the fire, And being whipped by memories.

Waiting for you feels like being a blind cloud, lost in the sky, Or feel nothing at all, but pretending to smile. Waiting for you is like begging for emptiness, Breaking like a flower’s stem under the sparrow’s weight.

Waiting for you is like spraying water on the sand, what a waste! Or to open the door and face a beast instead of a friend. Waiting for you is like looking in the mirror And fleeing from your own reflection in disgust.

Waiting for you is like trying to light a candle made of ice. Or wearing a necklace made of shiny crystals of salt that burn your skin. Waiting for you is like crying alone And feeling the taste of your tears on a sunny day.

Waiting for you is like having a charmed life on the seventh sky, But I will never have a chance to fall as rain. Waiting for you is like fighting a shadow, You won’t lose, but what is the point of it anyway?

Waiting for you feels like being lost inside yourself, Or being hungry and dream about bread. Waiting for you is like turning into a white statue, With a crying or laughing face – you choose.

Waiting for you becomes an art of expectation, I tell myself that everything will be great. My eyes are getting tired, but I’m waiting Until all colours of the world will slowly fade.

I’m waiting for you, no lies and doubts. Who will refuse such happiness? Kidding I’m not. I’m waiting for you till my soul will be dethroned. Because you is me and me is you.


If I fall asleep, don’t wake me up, Be yourself, not the echoes of others. Don’t look for me when I’m gone, You will know when I want to be found.

Meet my evening with your sunrise Be a song that will tremble my soul. If I’m old, make me glow like a full Moon, Trust yourself, leave the burden of doubts.

You can move to a different planet, Always searching for a happier place. But wherever you go, don’t forget me Otherwise you’ll forget yourself.

Don’t be surprised to see me standing apart, Far from any crowds or streams. Be my friend that I’ll never lose, Like the earth catch my falling dreams.

Don’t pity me if I go astray, You won’t scold me for that, will you? If I’m found in thousand years, Everything I wrote will open your eyes.

Blame me if I’m not at loud parties, Blame me for my past. One day I’ll nest in your heart With my song written after the rain.


Forgive me, my good-natured people, For wandering through this boundless space! Forgive me for what I am, For coming into this world.

Forgive me For being madly in love, Waiting for a spring wind’s gust. For my life passed sweating Doing some useless stuff.

Forgive me For loving you all, For wanting to see you in the best light. For burning after that all my possessions And scratching the earth from grief.

Forgive me For trusting without any reason, For my shining luck. For throwing away my time Like old things and useless junk.

Forgive me If I can’t recognise in time The meanness of the ungrateful. For being not upset about forty holes In my shabby old towel.

Forgive me If I misunderstood some of you, And was left disappointed a bit. Forgive my heart and my poems With their cherished dreams.

Forgive My views being only my own, For dreams never coming true. My worn out dress in colour of oblivion, My senseless occupation too.

Forgive For waiting with bated breath, For times when I was wrong. For tears kept in hiding and shed Straight into my heart.

Forgive me For hidden wounds Never bandaged and never healed. Forgive for a pen in my hand – Never satisfied with itself.

Forgive my book that will be finished Without telling the whole truth. Forgive a beat of my heart Expecting some wonderful things…

Forgive me For being a person Who doesn’t like to be in the spotlight. Forgive my abandoned shore, If you can do it at all.

Forgive my unwritten words and me being still alive and well. Forgive my loving eyes – Looking straight at you.

Gulnar Salykbay has worked as editor-in-chief of the national TV Channel Qazaqstan . Her first poetry collection was published to great acclaim and two more followed. Her poems are considered a meticulous reflection of the depths of the human condition and her passion and linguistic experimentation mark her as a strikingly distinctive voice in contemporary Kazakh poetry. Her verses feature in national and international anthologies and two volumes have been published in China. She has translated poetry into Kazakh and her own poems have been translated into several languages.

kazakh literature essay


You are the gloomy night, my love, frowning at me from the far distance, my wretched feelings weakened, I have only my single wing to reach your arms.

So that I strive towards you… burn from your fire, so that then…and then…choking I catch my breath… you burned like that, you gave yourself to be loved, scattering and spreading the sparks of your soul.

You lured me into your arms, my free bird. I swore to myself that I wouldn’t trust you, but failed… There are hundreds of cures in the world but am I willing to recover since you are my disease?

To hell with my greatness — I walk about in tears. Today you are the song that made me weep. Who said joy and pain are opposite spheres? Look here and you’ll see there’s just one step between them.

You are the night, my love, the mystery – You wash my eyes, as if with rain. Could I mindlessly submit to your power? Am I to blame that my mirror broke? Tell meeee…


This is how my verses go –

unconcerned with reason, they are all a pure invention that has no truck with truth or even belongs in the world. Having no bone to pick with others,

xxxxxxxxxxxxxx or wanting to make their presence felt, I’m not even sure I get them myself, though ever awake, they will not leave me.

Suppose one day I imagine someone … I can’t say he’s real but won’t say he’s not. A rational man would never accept him – some figment possessing my mind.

Unseen by anyone else, he has his claws in me and never lets me go. With no visible strings we’re tethered together.

Whether you do or don’t know him, what does it matter to you? I can’t say I know him myself – this mystery man, the stranger, the subject of my poem.

Aliya Dauletbayeva ( b.1977) is a poet who has worked in media for several years and is also an editor and director. She founded a young poets’ club with the aim of nurturing young talent. She has written two poetry collections and her poems have been included in two anthologies. A lyrical poet, she relies on the ancient traditions of epic jyrau poetry, searching for modern language and new images – uncommon sources for the poetry of the relatively young generation whom she represents. She has written epic poems and has translated foreign verses and plays into KazakhBack to the top

kazakh literature essay


To you, to you, I’ll come before the dawn, Wherever you live: in the mountains or in the valley. I’ll open wide your window and leave A mountain flower on your pillow.

To you, to you, I’ll come before night, Before the city lights go out. I’ll cover you with a white blanket and leave A wild flower on your pillow.

To you, to you, I’ll come ahead of myself, Ahead of yearning and ahead of patience, Even if I won’t hear my name from your lips Even I won’t see in your eyes my reflection.

To you, to you, I’ll come ahead of sorrows, Ahead of these cruel years, Misfortune, your fate, and heartbreak, loneliness and being close to tears.

I’ll come ahead of a hope and a dream, Before being thrown away like an unwanted gift. Before an old age and withering of a young life, Ahead of the strangers who’ll never understand you.

I’ll come to you ahead of shed tears, Ahead of all retreats and defeats. I will turn into an angel protecting you from Day and night, sadness and tears.

Even if hard times put obstacles in your way, And brutal people will threaten with their force. You will feel that I’m near you Even knowing that I’m far away.

If we meet in our dreams, know that they’re real, If we meet when life is hard, know that life is good. If you see a white sparkle in the black sky Know that it’s me who came to you ahead of everything.

You know everything. About heart’s storms and rains. About springs when birds were late, And that my soul was hurt then.

You know which words healed my pain, Which songs lulled Twilight, What autumn flowers faded early, When I didn’t come to you the next day.

You know how the soul sings in summer, How the fire of fate burns in a heart, You understood instantly a young man’s state, How I did almost combust in an instant.

You know how fate tossed me about, (Like mountains I shake before finding peace), Under what torrent I was, but looked at the sky, What words I repeated to myself again and again,

You know, all my soul craves, it is known to you – how I can find peace, What prayer I read in the morning, In the evening what book I read.

You know everything, a spoiled girl, I couldn’t complain to another heart, only yours. What dreams I have every night, And how they were interpreted.

You know, Secrets no one knows, Mysteries I can’t solve myself, Signs that no one saw, Poems that were not included in any of my books.

Yerlan Zhunis (b. 1984)is a poet and literary translator. He has worked at two literary newspapers and is currently an editor at the JetisuAlmaty regional TV channel. His first poetry collection was published when he was still at school and was followed by several more. Junis’s lyrical verses are highly regarded by his literary colleagues for their unexpected surrealist images and their sincere, yet aristocratic expression of the human emotions. He has also translated a number of world classics from Russian and Persian into Kazakh. He has won a number of awards, including national and international poetry contests and the Grand Prix of the Shabyt International Youth Festival.

Tanakoz Tolkynkyzy: Two Poems translated by Patricia McCarthy

kazakh literature essay

When a person I trust most betrays me, please teach me to be strong. When the senses take over my emotions, please teach me to see my feelings for what they are. When a car covers my white dress with splashes of dirt from the street, please teach me not to curse. Whenever I flatter myself, teach me not to lie to my child. When my wishes, in all their innocence, are assumed wicked, please teach me to be patient. Whenever I see a disbeliever, please teach me to see the God in him. When days turn gloomy, teach me to sleep like a baby. When nights are stormy, teach me to leap to the moon. When I fall totally in love, please teach me to stay silent. And teach me to live without sun in my body that is like a sunflower. Better still, teach me to live totally without sun. When the world is merciless, teach me to be merciful. Whenever I get injured, teach me to heal the wounded. Teach me to believe in individuals, to overcome my Self. Please teach me to look as a saint on this immoral world. When what seems to be a good word is hurtful, please teach me not to react. And when feelings become tainted, teach me not to weep. Whenever my gentle soul is hurt by other sensitive people, please teach me to forgive. When the pure world is darkened by the innocent, please teach me to get angry at myself, at no one else. When the person closest to me does not listen to my troubles, please teach me to love him. xxxx Teach me to lose. xxxx Teach me to back off. If you wish to change my fate, I beg you: teach me to bow my head. Please…


Try to cure my poor soul. I can hardly get from one day to the next, even though my heart so longs for you. I am afraid of meeting you face to face. If you get on the tram unexpectedly, where will I be able to hide? Should I alight and pretend I haven’t noticed you? Should I forget my daydream in which I longed for you? So worried and confused, I couldn’t work out what these feelings were: good or evil, yet I fought and fought to get rid of them: in vain… I tried to pretend it wasn’t me who loved you, who kept searching for you, and I wished I could burn up like an ash. Why did I play with the magic in your eyes and quibble with love? Are you a thief of strong feelings? Why do you stand in the corner of my mind? Time cannot heal – and my fortune is in the tip of my nails. O try to cure my poor soul. I can’t get by from one day to the next and even though my soul longs for you, I am terrified of meeting you face to face.

Tanakoz Tolkynkyzy (b. 1977) is a poet and journalist. She has worked in a range of mass media, and is currently a producer at the national TV Channel Qazaqstan. Her debut poems, published when she was eleven, won numerous literary contests among young poets. Since then she has appeared frequently in literary periodicals, securing her reputation as a striking emerging writer. Tolkynkyzy has published four collections. Her verses are regarded as a fine example of contemporary Kazakh poetry for their daring expression of the most intimate feelings common to many Kazakh girls. She has translated poetry into Kazakh and edited the first anthology of Kazakh poets in Spanish and Azerbaijani.

kazakh literature essay


When it came this year, spring did nothing for me. I had no time for songsters chirping. My frozen heart languished. Buried like bulbs, my feelings groaned beneath the weight of snow. Who cares for seasonal birds and springtime on the shore? So what if I haven’t spotted a gull? It’s spring in the city. Big deal! It bucks you up or it doesn’t. City. Spring. Night. Its stars are familiar and fake. Its cacophonous songs go on and on. When I stepped out on the balcony I said to myself: It’s spring then tore up the tulip I’d planted… And when night falls it’s just as bad. I’m ill at ease. The sky is cold. I try to play the recorder and improvise a ‘Song of Birds’. It leaves me cold, joyless. My verses, too, are lifeless, the images vague as shadows glimpsed on distant slopes. Could any spring on earth be so devoid of grace? Let me waken up again. For so long I yearned for spring, but not, alas, this one.


When you ask me where I’ve been I could ask myself the same as I think about life and verses. Laughing and making the most of my days, I’ve not been away at all or not in the way that you imagine, determined not to lose sight of myself. For who’s impressed by histrionics or even cares if I succeed? If I keep my failures under wraps, the hidden powers ground me or else I’ll borrow wings to fly away somehow. Don’t let on you’re disappointed or tell the world how tough it’s been. Rinse off the dust you’ve accumulated and don’t forsake your dreams. Don’t bore those nearest to you with the torments of your soul. When you accept what lies before you, it doesn’t mean you’ll be alone. So let detractors mock me my secret muse will be my strength. I wasn’t away as you had feared – alive perhaps only in my private sphere.


It’s autumn again and the trees are golden. A new term has started. TheTV schedules change. Though all the sound bites say the same, I hope for better things. Smiling, I ask for news about you as soon as day dawns. Like an autumn leaf, my soul is trampled. Even you were trampling it, when you wished me well. Still young and writing poems, I don’t know what the future holds. Is autumn leading me on again towards its spurious spires? One strike of the match and I’ll explode as day after day I dither at every fork in the road. Just passing through, like a seasonal guest, I crave no more than a friendly welcome.

Nazira Berdaly (b. 1980) is a poet and journalist. She has worked as an editor in radio and television and has gained popularity among her audiences as a presenter on national television. She is currently head of the TansholpanArts Association at the TV and Radio Corporation Qazaqstan. Her debut poems were published in the Jambyl regional newspaper Aq Jol and were later included in a collection of works by young writers of the region. She has since published three poetry collections. Berdaly is the author of the lyrics for a number of popular songs.

Belinda Cooke completed a PhD on Robert Lowell’s interest in Osip Mandelstam in 1993. Since then her poetry, translations and reviews have been published widely. She has five books to date: Resting Place  (Flarestack, 2008);  The Paths of the Beggarwoman: Selected Poems of Marina Tsvetaeva , (Worple Press, 2008) and (in collaboration with Richard McKane) Flags  by Boris Poplavsky, (Shearsman, 2009), Kulager  by Ilias Jansugurov  (Kazakh National Translation Agency, 2018) and Forms of Exile: Selected Poems of Marina Tsvetaeva (The High Window, 2019). She lives and teaches in the Highlands of Scotland on the west coast.  

Roza Kudabayeva   is a journalist and translator originally from Kazakhstan. In 1996 she joined the BBC World Service as a Kazakh Producer. At the same time she presented the popular regional radio programme ‘Rannyi Chas’ in Russian for Central Asia and Caucasus. In 2004 she was awarded the Gold Medal at the New-York Radio festival for a series of programmes ‘Dzhan on Aral shores’  where the fates of the heroes of the Russian writer Andrey Platonov’s novel ‘Dzhan’ (Soul) and people living on Aral shores in the 20th century were intertwined. After more than two decades with the BBC World Service Roza now concentrates more on various translation projects.

Patricia McCarthy i s the editor of Agenda (www.agendpapoetry.co.uk ) and was the  2013  winner of the National Poetry Competition with her poem ‘Clothes that escaped the Great War’. Among her previous collections are Rodin’s Shadow , Horses Between Our Legs (a Book of the Year in the Independent on Sunday ), and Letters to Akhmatova . Trodden Before (The High Window) and Rockabye (Worple Press) were published towards the end of 2018. Her next collection Hand in Hand (publication date TBA) is inspired by the medieval legend of Tristan and Isolde.

Alistair Noon ‘s translations of Osip Mandelstam, Concert at a Railway Station , were published by Shearsman in 2018. His publications include two collections from Nine Arches Press ( Earth Records , 2012, and The Kerosene Singing, 2015) and a dozen pamphlets, including QUAD (Longbarrow, 2018). He lives in Berlin.

David Cooke is the editor of The High Window . His most recent collection of poetry, Reel to Reel , was published recently by Dempsey and Windle.

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kazakh literature essay


Essay on Kazakhstan

Students are often asked to write an essay on Kazakhstan in their schools and colleges. And if you’re also looking for the same, we have created 100-word, 250-word, and 500-word essays on the topic.

Let’s take a look…

100 Words Essay on Kazakhstan

Introduction to kazakhstan.

Kazakhstan is a big country in Central Asia. It’s the ninth-largest in the world. This place used to be part of the Soviet Union until 1991. Now it’s its own country with Astana as the capital.

People and Culture

Lots of people live in Kazakhstan, from different backgrounds. They have their own language, Kazakh, but many also speak Russian. They enjoy music, dance, and tasty food like beshbarmak.

Nature and Geography

Kazakhstan has mountains, flat lands, and lakes. The land is home to animals like snow leopards. People visit to see its beauty and rare creatures.

The country is rich in oil and minerals. These resources help Kazakhstan make money and grow. It also farms a lot, growing things like wheat.

Kazakhstan faces problems like pollution and changing weather. Leaders are working to make things better for the future.

250 Words Essay on Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan is a big country in Central Asia. It is the ninth largest country in the world. This nation is known for its beautiful nature and rich history.

Kazakhstan has many kinds of places, like mountains, deserts, and flat lands. It has long, cold winters and hot summers. The country is home to many animals and plants.

Lots of different people live in Kazakhstan. They speak Kazakh and Russian. The country is famous for its traditional music and dances. People there also enjoy sports, especially soccer and ice hockey.

Kazakhstan has a long past. It used to be part of the Soviet Union until 1991. When the Soviet Union broke up, Kazakhstan became its own country.

The country is rich in resources like oil and minerals. These resources help Kazakhstan make money and provide jobs for people. The nation is working to grow its economy and improve life for its citizens.

Kazakhstan is an interesting place with a lot to offer. It has a mix of old traditions and new ideas. The country is growing and changing as it looks to the future.

500 Words Essay on Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan is a large country located in Central Asia. It is the ninth biggest country in the world. This land has a rich history and is known for its beautiful landscapes that include mountains, flatlands, and lakes. Kazakhstan is also a place where many different kinds of people live together, sharing their cultures and traditions.

Geography and Climate

Kazakhstan has a lot of different types of places within it. There are huge areas of flat land called steppes, tall mountains like the Tian Shan, and even parts of the Caspian Sea. Because Kazakhstan is so big, the weather can change a lot depending on where you are. Some places are very cold, especially in the winter, while others can be quite warm.

People and Language

Many people live in Kazakhstan, and they come from different backgrounds. The main language spoken here is Kazakh, but Russian is also widely used. The country has a mix of cultures, with people celebrating their own traditions and holidays. This makes Kazakhstan a colorful and interesting place.

Government and Economy

Kazakhstan is a country that decides things through a government called a republic. This means they have a president and other leaders who help make important decisions. The country has a lot of natural resources, like oil and minerals, which help it make money. Farming is also important, with crops like wheat grown in the fertile lands.

Education and Cities

Education is a big part of life in Kazakhstan. Children go to school to learn many subjects, and there are also universities for higher education. The biggest city is Almaty, which used to be the capital. Now, the capital is Nur-Sultan, which was known as Astana before. These cities are modern and have many buildings, shops, and places to visit.

Culture and Traditions

Kazakhstan has a rich culture with music, dance, and art that people enjoy. There are traditional clothes and foods that are special to this country. Holidays like Nauryz, which marks the start of spring, are celebrated with joy and bring people together.

Nature and Wildlife

The nature in Kazakhstan is beautiful, with places like the Altai Mountains and the Charyn Canyon. There are also many animals, such as eagles, wolves, and the rare snow leopard. People work to protect these animals and the natural places they live in.

Kazakhstan is a country with a lot to offer. It has a mix of old traditions and new ideas. The people are friendly, and there are many beautiful places to see. From its snowy mountains to its busy cities, Kazakhstan is a land of diversity and beauty that is worth learning about.

That’s it! I hope the essay helped you.

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Guest Essay

The Most Important Writing Exercise I’ve Ever Assigned

An illustration of several houses. One person walks away from a house with a second person isolated in a window.

By Rachel Kadish

Ms. Kadish is the author of the novel “The Weight of Ink.”

“Write down a phrase you find abhorrent — something you yourself would never say.”

My students looked startled, but they cooperated. They knew I wouldn’t collect this exercise; what they wrote would be private unless they chose to share it. All that was required of them was participation.

In silence they jotted down a few words. So far, so good. We hadn’t yet reached the hard request: Spend 10 minutes writing a monologue in the first person that’s spoken by a fictitious character who makes the upsetting statement. This portion typically elicits nervous glances. When that happens, I remind students that their statement doesn’t represent them and that speaking as if they’re someone else is a basic skill of fiction writers. The troubling statement, I explain, must appear in the monologue, and it shouldn’t be minimized, nor should students feel the need to forgive or account for it. What’s required is simply that somewhere in the monologue there be an instant — even a fleeting phrase — in which we can feel empathy for the speaker. Perhaps she’s sick with worry over an ill grandchild. Perhaps he’s haunted by a love he let slip away. Perhaps she’s sleepless over how to keep her business afloat and her employees paid. Done right, the exercise delivers a one-two punch: repugnance for a behavior or worldview coupled with recognition of shared humanity.

For more than two decades, I’ve taught versions of this fiction-writing exercise. I’ve used it in universities, middle schools and private workshops, with 7-year-olds and 70-year-olds. But in recent years openness to this exercise and to the imaginative leap it’s designed to teach has shrunk to a pinprick. As our country’s public conversation has gotten angrier, I’ve noticed that students’ approach to the exercise has become more brittle, regardless of whether students lean right or left.

Each semester, I wonder whether the aperture through which we allow empathy has so drastically narrowed as to foreclose a full view of our fellow human beings. Maybe there are times so contentious or so painful that people simply withdraw to their own silos. I’ve certainly felt that inward pull myself. There are times when a leap into someone else’s perspective feels impossible.

But leaping is the job of the writer, and there’s no point it doing it halfway. Good fiction pulls off a magic trick of absurd power: It makes us care. Responding to the travails of invented characters — Ahab or Amaranta, Sethe or Stevens, Zooey or Zorba — we might tear up or laugh, or our hearts might pound. As readers, we become invested in these people, which is very different from agreeing with or even liking them. In the best literature, characters are so vivid, complicated, contradictory and even maddening that we’ll follow them far from our preconceptions; sometimes we don’t return.

Unflinching empathy, which is the muscle the lesson is designed to exercise, is a prerequisite for literature strong enough to wrestle with the real world. On the page it allows us to spot signs of humanity; off the page it can teach us to start a conversation with the strangest of strangers, to thrive alongside difference. It can even affect those life-or-death choices we make instinctively in a crisis. This kind of empathy has nothing to do with being nice, and it’s not for the faint of heart.

Even within the safety of the page, it’s tempting to dodge empathy’s challenge, instead demonizing villains and idealizing heroes, but that’s when the needle on art’s moral compass goes inert. Then we’re navigating blind: confident that we know what the bad people look like and that they’re not us — and therefore we’re at no risk of error.

Our best writers, in contrast, portray humans in their full complexity. This is what Gish Jen is doing in the short story “Who’s Irish?” and Rohinton Mistry in the novel “A Fine Balance.” Line by line, these writers illuminate the inner worlds of characters who cause harm — which is not the same as forgiving them. No one would ever say that Toni Morrison forgives the character Cholly Breedlove, who rapes his daughter in “The Bluest Eye.” What Ms. Morrison accomplishes instead is the boldest act of moral and emotional understanding I’ve ever seen on the page.

In the classroom exercise, the upsetting phrases my students scribble might be personal (“You’ll never be a writer,” “You’re ugly”) or religious or political. Once a student wrote a phrase condemning abortion as another student across the table wrote a phrase defending it. Sometimes there are stereotypes, slurs — whatever the students choose to grapple with. Of course, it’s disturbing to step into the shoes of someone whose words or deeds repel us. Writing these monologues, my graduate students, who know what “first person” means, will dodge and write in third, with the distanced “he said” instead of “I said.”

But if they can withstand the challenges of first person, sometimes something happens. They emerge shaken and eager to expand on what they’ve written. I look up from tidying my notes to discover students lingering after dismissal with that alert expression that says the exercise made them feel something they needed to feel.

Over the years, as my students’ statements became more political and as jargon (“deplorables,” “snowflakes”) supplanted the language of personal experience, I adapted the exercise. Worrying that I’d been too sanguine about possible pitfalls, I made it entirely silent, so no student would have to hear another’s troubling statement or fear being judged for their own. Any students who wanted to share their monologues with me could stay after class rather than read to the group. Later, I added another caveat: If your troubling statement is so offensive, you can’t imagine the person who says it as a full human being, choose something less troubling. Next, I narrowed the parameters: No politics. The pandemic’s virtual classes made risk taking harder; I moved the exercise deeper into the semester so students would feel more at ease.

After one session, a student stayed behind in the virtual meeting room. She’d failed to include empathy in her monologue about a character whose politics she abhorred. Her omission bothered her. I was impressed by her honesty. She’d constructed a caricature and recognized it. Most of us don’t.

For years, I’ve quietly completed the exercise alongside my students. Some days nothing sparks. When it goes well, though, the experience is disquieting. The hard part, it turns out, isn’t the empathy itself but what follows: the annihilating notion that people whose fears or joys or humor I appreciate may themselves be indifferent to all my cherished conceptions of the world.

Then the 10-minute timer sounds, and I haul myself back to the business of the classroom — shaken by the vastness of the world but more curious about the people in it. I put my trust in that curiosity. What better choice does any of us have? And in the sanctuary of my classroom I keep trying, handing along what literature handed me: the small, sturdy magic trick any of us can work, as long as we’re willing to risk it.

Rachel Kadish is the author of the novel “The Weight of Ink.”

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kazakh literature essay

U.S. Embassy in Cameroon

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The U.S. Embassy is pleased to invite multicultural and inclusive-minded educators with experience in working creatively with young people in English to serve as Chaperone for young writers during the U.S. Government-Sponsored 2024 International Writing Program (IWP) Between the Lines (BTL) : Peace and the Writing Experience program and Between the Lines:  Identity and Belonging  program.  Selected candidates will participate in a two-week, in person creative writing program from  June 9-June 22 and June 30-July 14, 2024 at the University of Iowa.

The deadline for applications is March 7, 2024.

Program Description Each of the BTL program will bring 20 international writers, ages 15-18 from selected countries, and 10 U.S. peers. BTL participants will be required to attend all in-person workshops, seminars, and cultural exchange sessions during the two-week program. All program activities will be in English and will include creative writing workshops, group and individual writing assignments, world literature seminars, cultural visits, and other local events. Upon completion of the program, IWP will publish the students’ writings as an anthology. Chaperones will provide will provide multicultural support to participants in the program.

How To Apply: Each Applicant should submit all application materials as attachments to the following address:

[email protected]

A complete application will include the following:

  • A detailed CV
  • An essay, in English, of no more than three pages in response to the following prompt:

“In what way does your identity influence you as an educator or mentor for youth?”

  • A brief statement of purpose (no more than 250 words), in English, describing what he/she hopes to learn at BTL.
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  1. Rewriting the Nation in Modern Kazakh Literature

    kazakh literature essay


    kazakh literature essay

  3. (PDF) History of Kazakh Literature Classification

    kazakh literature essay

  4. Collections of Kazakh Classical and Modern Literature in English from

    kazakh literature essay

  5. Collections of Kazakh Classical and Modern Literature in English from

    kazakh literature essay

  6. Historical Aspect of Independence in Modern Kazakh Literature

    kazakh literature essay


  1. Agugai

  2. M. A. Final

  3. #Қалада #Вгороде #казахскийязык #казахский #қазақтілі #kazakhlanguage

  4. Kazakh interactive




  1. Kazakh literature

    Kazakh literature Also known as: Kazak literature Written by Walter Feldman Independent scholar. Author of Music of the Ottoman Court and editor of Modern Literary Uzbek. Walter Feldman Fact-checked by The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica

  2. Kazakh literature

    [1] The Book of Dede Korkut and Oguz Name (a story of ancient Turkic king Oghuz Khan) are the most well-known Turkic heroic legends. Initially created around 9th century CE, they were passed on through generations in oral form. The legendary tales were recorded by Turkish authors in 14-16th centuries C.E. [citation needed] Modern literature

  3. At last, a guide to the literature of Kazakhstan

    The modern literature of the 20th century reflected complex changes in Kazakh society. It bridged the gap between the nomadic oral heritage and new literature, which experimented with European models — "new" forms, especially in prose. The literary heritage of this era is an intricate reflection of these changes.

  4. Writing by Kazakh Women

    The perhaps-autobiographical story of a Kazakh student of Russian literature trying to survive in Moscow in the months following the collapse of the Soviet Union, The Nanny presents a new kind of protagonist: an uncertain, introverted young woman, whose only source of strength is her multicultural patchwork of knowledge, covering Russian literat...

  5. The Stories of Modern Kazakh Prose

    In this podcast, we will be retelling selected stories from 20th-century Kazakh literature, which was born out of—and transformed—the unique oral traditions that historically preserved Kazakhstan's rich heritage of images, narratives, and poems.

  6. Life and works of Kazakh writers

    After family moving in 1962 to Almaty his professional activity was closely connected with literature: worked as an announcer on the Kazakh radio, a journalist in the Sotsialistik Kazakstan newspaper, an employee of the Zhuldyz magazine, the head of council on affairs of youth in the Union of writers.

  7. Resources for the Study of Kazakh Literature and Culture

    Published by the Kazakh Academy of Sciences' Institute of Literature and Art that bears his name, this was the first attempt at a comprehensive bibliography of works by and about the great Kazakh playwright, author, literary scholar, and president of the Kazakh Writer's Union, Mūkhtar Ăuezov (1897-1961).

  8. Rewriting the Nation in Modern Kazakh Literature

    Kazakh literary production became the flagman of republic's rapid cultural modernization and prior to the World War II local publishing industry produced up to 6 million print copies a year. By the 1960s and 1970s - the golden era of Kazakh literature, the most read literary journal Juldyz sold 50,000 copies all over the country. Literature ...

  9. (PDF) The role of Zhusypbek Aimautov in the development of

    The article concludes that Aimautov was the founder of Kazakh literary criticism and contributed hugely to the development of philosophical and theological concepts in Kazakh literary criticism ...

  10. Contemporary Kazakh Literature: POETRY

    Contemporary Kazakh Literature: POETRY. Featuring the work of some of Kazakhstan's finest poets, and available in English for the first time, this anthology offers a landmark collection in modern international literature. The poetry crosses an impressive breadth of subjects and styles, from strident verse exploring Kazakh nationhood to ...

  11. About Genre Diversity in Modern Kazakh Literature

    The purpose of this article is to characterize the genre of historical novel and the genre of essays in Kazakh literary criticism, as well as to provide information about representatives of these genres: Ilyas Esenberlin and Bakhyt Kairbekov. Issues of diversity and changes in genres in literature are very relevant and require further study.

  12. The Power of Context: Abai Kunanbayev's Translations Made European

    This year is marked by the celebration of the 175th anniversary of Kazakh poet and writer Abai Kunanbayev. Kunanbayev went on to become the first Kazakh classic writer famous not only for his works, philosophical treatises and music, but also as a translator, who popularized the masterpieces of world literature for a general audience.

  13. Abai: A Poet for All Seasons

    As the great scholar and writer Mukhtar Auezov put it: "He carried his poetry like a burning torch through the gloom of ignorance and prejudice that enveloped the Kazakh steppes, revealing new horizons to his people and the promise of a new dawn."

  14. Kazakh Literature

    The literary traditions of Kazakhstan can be traced back to the ancient legends and myths of the nomads. Epics such as Korkyt-ata and Oguz-nameh were authored millennia ago and are still influential in modern Kazakh literature. Tolgau, a reflective and educative genre of poetry, became popular in the 15th century and helped to shape the Kazakh social identity.

  15. Genre Varieties of Modern Kazakh Russian Story

    (Russian) (JATS XML) Abstract The purpose of this article is to identify and describe the two main genre varieties of the modern Russian Kazakh story. In the course of the study, the following methods were used: theoretical, historical-literary, system-typological approach, poetic-structural analysis of the work.

  16. Abay Kunanbayev

    Abay (Ibrahim) Kunanbayev was a great poet, philosopher, statesman and founder of modern Kazakh literature. Abai was born August 10, 1845 in Chingiz Mountains Semipalatinsk region (under the current administrative division) from one of the four wives Kunanbai, senior Sultan Karkarala district.


    Kunanbaev's Philosophy Soviet-Era Literary Figures Kazakhstan Crackdown on Human Hobbits LITERATURE IN KAZAKHSTAN Kazakhstan has rich oral tradition of epic poems, ballads and verse tales performed in songs call "kyui, "by traveling storytellers called "zhyrsy", and improvisational poets and musicians called "akyns".

  18. Contemporary Kazakh Poetry

    The narrative unfolds within an authentic and rich portrayal of the now lost Kazakh nomadic society with all its traditions of public events and everyday life in its mountains, lakes and steppe and their abundant overflowing of poetry and music. MOTHERLAND Born in the mountains among rocks, with ice as my bed, and snow my battleground.

  19. Kazakh Culture

    Prominent Kazakh Writers and Poets [edit | edit source] Kazakhstan has a rich literary tradition that dates back centuries. Throughout its history, many talented writers and poets have emerged, leaving an indelible mark on Kazakh literature. In this section, we will explore the lives and works of some of the most famous Kazakh writers and poets.

  20. Essay contest "Spiritual literary heritage of T. Zhurgenov and Kazakh

    AL-FARABI KAZAKH NATIONAL UNIVERSITY. FACULTY OF PHILOLOGY. DEPARTMENT OF KAZAKH LITERATURE AND THEORY OF LITERATURE. Announcement . In honor of the 90th anniversary of the Al-Farabi Kazakh National University, we invite students of higher educational institutions (journalism, philology) to take part in the essay contest "Spiritual literary heritage of T. Zhurgenov and Kazakh culture ...

  21. Kazakh Literature Review

    1142 Words | 5 Pages Russian History has always been grounded on the fundamental principle of abrupt change that have been about through war and suffrage. Generally, the changes are forcibly thrusted wholesale on Russian and the civils residing inside of their wall, which contradicts the idea of a gradual revolution.

  22. Essay About Kazakh Culture

    Essay About Kazakh Culture. 933 Words4 Pages. Introduction: Kazakh culture is the characteristics of Kazakh people, defined by religion, cuisine, language, literature, art, movies, music and sport. Educated people can develop almost all culture and contribute to the development of the country, because they are more motivated, purposeful and ...

  23. Essay on Kazakhstan

    Students are often asked to write an essay on Kazakhstan in their schools and colleges. And if you're also looking for the same, we have created 100-word, 250-word, and 500-word essays on the topic. Let's take a look… 100 Words Essay on Kazakhstan Introduction to Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan is a big country in Central Asia.

  24. Opinion

    For more than two decades, I've taught versions of this fiction-writing exercise. I've used it in universities, middle schools and private workshops, with 7-year-olds and 70-year-olds.

  25. International Writing Program-Opportunity for Educators 2024

    The U.S. Embassy is pleased to invite multicultural and inclusive-minded educators with experience in working creatively with young people in English to serve as Chaperone for young writers during the U.S. Government-Sponsored 2024 International Writing Program (IWP) Between the Lines (BTL): Peace and the Writing Experience program and Between the Lines: Identity and Belonging program.

  26. PDF Strategies for Essay Writing

    understand why it's worth writing that essay. A strong thesis will be arguable rather than descriptive, and it will be the right scope for the essay you are writing. If your thesis is descriptive, then you will not need to convince your readers of anything—you will be naming or summarizing something your readers can already see for themselves.