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The Railway Set mainly in Uzbekistan betweenand , this compelling novel introduces to us the inhabitants of the small town of Gilas on the ancient Silk Route Among those whose stories we hear are Mefody Jurisprudence, the town s alcoholic intellectual Father Ioann, a Russian priest Kara Musayev the Younger, the chief of police and Umarali Moneybags, the old moneylender Their colorful lives offer a unique and comic picture of a little known land populated by outgoing Mullahs, incoming Bolsheviks, and a plethora of Uzbeks, Russians, Persians, Jews, Koreans, Tatars, and Gypsies At the heart of both the town and the novel stands the railway station a source of income and influence, and a connection to the greater world beyond the town Rich and picaresque, The Railway is highly sophisticated yet contains a naive delight in its storytelling, chronicling the dramatic changes felt throughout Central Asia in the early th century Could not finish the book I felt confused all along, as each story does not stitch much with each other Having set myself the modest enough goal for 2010 of reading a fewbooks for the Read The World challenge than I did in 2009 I m already behind schedule We re into March and I ve only just finished my first Ho hum The Railway translated by Robert Chandler is my book from Uzbekistan I was slightly peeved when I received the book to read in the author bio that Hamid Ismailov was actually born in Kirghizstan, but his Uzbek credentials appear to be otherwise impeccable His parents were j Having set myself the modest enough goal for 2010 of reading a fewbooks for the Read The World challenge than I did in 2009 I m already behind schedule We re into March and I ve only just finished my first Ho hum The Railway translated by Robert Chandler is my book from Uzbekistan I was slightly peeved when I received the book to read in the author bio that Hamid Ismailov was actually born in Kirghizstan, but his Uzbek credentials appear to be otherwise impeccable His parents were just working in Kirghizstan when he was born, at a time of course when both countries were part of the USSR anyway In some ways it s quite fitting for this novel, because it is a book full of a patchwork of different nationalities and ethnicities, and full of people moving from place to place, for traditional reasons like pilgrimage and trade or as part of the army or civil service or sent to labour camps or forcibly relocated en masse by the government, like the ethnic Koreans from the far east of the USSR who were moved to Central Asia for some paranoid reason that presumably made sense to Stalin.One of the reviews quoted on the cover says imagine Marquez s One Hundred Years of Solitude on the empty plains of Central Asia , and although it s perhaps not quite so overtly magical as 100YoS, it is certainly of that ilk, full of strange happenings and grotesquerie It also has many many characters, all with long Uzbek names there s an eight page list at the back to help you keep track of them, although I can t say it helped me much and it shifts around in time and place in a way which, to be honest, just meant I was usually a bit confused It almost would have been better if I d read it as a book of short stories, I think, because it would have saved me that sense of being permanently unsure what was going on I have a relatively high tolerance for non linear narratives and that sort of thing, but I found it hard going I didn t help myself by the way I read it rather too many long gaps between picking it up.On the positive side, the world it conjures up is an interesting one a traditional Central Asian culture rubbing up against Russia and the Soviet bureaucracy, an Islamic culture in a sometimes aggressively secular state, petty local politics in the middle of it It was one of those books where I kind of thought that maybe, if I had read it in a different place or a different mood I might have really enjoyed it, because it certainly had interesting stuff going on and I can t put my finger on why I didn t enjoy it but there you go The Railway is both a confusing and a delightful book There are a lot of characters from a lot of different ethnic groups it spans several years in a non chronological way it has the odd history lesson or maybe just a legend thrown in from time to time it has mystical meditations on the meaning of life and God Allah and man, which are very seriously meant, and some communist tenets which are probably not it has a few trains The various characters may leave and then may or may not come The Railway is both a confusing and a delightful book There are a lot of characters from a lot of different ethnic groups it spans several years in a non chronological way it has the odd history lesson or maybe just a legend thrown in from time to time it has mystical meditations on the meaning of life and God Allah and man, which are very seriously meant, and some communist tenets which are probably not it has a few trains The various characters may leave and then may or may not come back, other characters may arrive, usually by train Other characters spend most of their time drinking either tea or vodka Most of them are resigned to their fate, however sad and unfortunate, and some who are not find changing their circumstances somewhat futile, but it not a depressing book at all I did not understand everything of what was going on, but I did enjoy it a lot, although somewhat in the manner of watching a visually very funny film, in a language I cannot understand and without sub titles I may not know a lotabout Uzbekistan after reading this book, but I have some wonderful images of it.This book quite possibly deserves five stars and I just didn t appreciate it sufficiently to be amazed, but I was impressed by both the book and the translation There are wonderful nicknames and wordplay, which are so great it is difficult to believe this is a translation.Edit Translation 5 , Writing 5 , Understanding by reader not 5.I am penalising the book because I m being thick, which is unfair.Rating changed to five stars Rounded up to 4 stars There s a lot to like and a lot to labouriously chew and ultimately give up on digesting People without some connection or experience of ex Soviet countries will have a hard time reading this The final interview between author and translator will shed a lot of light on why the book is the way that it is The ideal novel for me at that time was a novel that was free, a novel that could be understood only by myself and that was therefore not serving anyone Also, why do m Rounded up to 4 stars There s a lot to like and a lot to labouriously chew and ultimately give up on digesting People without some connection or experience of ex Soviet countries will have a hard time reading this The final interview between author and translator will shed a lot of light on why the book is the way that it is The ideal novel for me at that time was a novel that was free, a novel that could be understood only by myself and that was therefore not serving anyone Also, why do men authors so often feel the need to inject the ludicrous concept of casual sexual violence sprouting from random, circumstantial, unarrestable needs for release I don t care that your characters are uneducated, simple, rural, or whatever, it s uninspired and tiresome to make them engage in casual sexual assault and I don t understand why other men judge it a bold or in any way beneficial choice in manuscripts if it doesn t serve the plot in any way which it most often doesn t But this is a product of the 80s 90s, so I guess it is not that surprising I didn t detract any starts for it

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