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About Kazakhstan / Arts / Literature

Written monuments of V - IV centuries B.C. bring us the information about the development of crafts, arts, literature and oral folklore. The bright examples of literature are Orkhon writings. Such poems of Orkhon monuments (VII) as “Korkyt-nameh” (VIII), “Oguz-nameh” (IX) belong to this epoch common for all tribes. Their originals are still preserved on the large tombstones raised on the graves of famous beks and batyrs of Turk tribes - Kul-Tegin, Bilge-Kagan, Toniukuk who ruled the Turk tribes.

The history of literature contains the names of legendary philosophers, scientists and poets: Abunasyr Al-Farabi, the founder of many sciences and arts (Maths, architecture and music); Makhmud Kashgari, the author of the invaluable work “Divan-Lugat-At-Turk” (Dictionary of Turk Dialects); Khodzha Akhmet Yassaui, the author of the unsurpassed collection of poems “Divan-I-Khikmet”; Yussuf Balasaguni, the prominent author of the temporal work of the nations in Central Asia and Kazakhstan “Kutadgu Bilik”. During the period of Gold Horde or so-called Kypchak period (XIII-ХIV centuries) there were such dastans as “Kissah-Sul-Anbiya”, “Kumanikus Code”, “Mukhabbat-Nameh”, “Nakzh Ul-Faradis”, “Yussuf and Zuleikha”, “Tulistan”, “Dombaul”, “Kissah Nauryz”, “Tarikh-Kipchak” etc.

The bright monument of the Kypchak language “Kumanikus Code” is the dictionary of the Kypchak language, the folklore sample of Kypchaks with the riddles, aphorisms and shepherd songs. At present “Kumanikus Code” is kept in Venice, in St. Mark’s Church.

With the establishment of Kazakh khanate in XV-XVIII centuries the foundation is made for the natural development of the national spirituality. One of the persons in XV century who had become the legend was the poet and philosopher, the advisor to the first khans (Zhanibek and Kerei) – Khasen Sabituly who was called Asan-Kaigy by the people. Like Thomas Moor and Tomaso Campanella he expressed the ideals and was looking for the blessed place. Great value for the history of Kazakh literature belongs to the collections of the chronicles “Tarikhi Rashidih” by Mohamed Khaidar Dulatih, “Zhamagat Tauarikh” by Kadyrgali Kossan Uly Zhalairi. During that epoch there were such creative poets-zhyrau as Sypyra zhyrau, Shalkiyz, Kaztugan, Aktamberdy and Bukhar zhyrau. Numerous dastans, eposes and ritual songs were created. Legendary works of the oral folk creativity, for example, “Koblandy-Batyr”, “Kozy-Korpesh and Bayan-Sulu”, “Kyz Zhibek” are the symbols of national spirit.

Great philosopher, incomparable artists of word, composer and tireless enlightener, Abai was the genius of his time, the prominent personality of the global significance. When he was 13 he mastered Arabic, Persian, Chagatai and Russian languages. This allowed him getting acquainted with the books of Oriental classical writers. He brilliantly translated into Kazakh the works of Pushkin, Lermontov, Krylov, Goethe, Schiller, Byron. He created immortal artworks in poetry and in music. “Kara Sozder” (Words of Edification) is the prose of the poet, which is the religious-philosophical treatise that expresses the whole depth of the folk wisdom blessed consecrated by the love to the mankind.

One of the first Kazakh scientists who made the great contribution into the world culture is Shokan Shyngysuly Ualikhanov. He studied myths and legends, traditions and customs, language and religion of Kazakh and Kyrgyz people. In the books written by Shokan “Ancient Legends of Great Kyrgyz-Kaisats Horde”, “Shamanism Traces of Kazakhs”, “Notes About Kashgaria”, “On Islam in Steppe” and other scientific works he made the systematic analysis of the culture of Kazakhs and of other relative Turk nations.

In the twenties of 20 century the prose estalishement process in Kazakhstan was completed. B.Mailin, M.Auezov, S.Seifullin, I.Zhansugurov, S.Mukanov, S.Sharipov, Z.Tlepbergenov, G.Musrepov, G.Mustafin, U.Turmanzhanov, E.Bekenov and others wrote stories, essays, tales and novels. They found appropriate realistic colours for the creation of bright human images and characters, for description of the characters’ portraits. Modern literature is developed via the deep disclosure of the inner world of people, its true and image-bearing reflection. Since 1933 the section of Russian literature starts operating in the Union of Writers of Kazakhstan. I.Shukhov’s novels “Bitter Line” (1931), “Hatred” (1932) are referred to as the significant works of the modern literature of that period in the novel genre. During the Second World War A.Bek in his novel “Volokolamsk Motorway” (1943) created the heroic images of B.Momyshuly, I.Panfilov. In the post-war period, such tales as “The Image of the Sun” by I.Shukhov (1950), “Starting Point” by V.Vanyushin (1952) were published. N.Anov in his novel “Wings of the Song” (1959) reflected the social and historical situation of Kazakhstan in the twenties. The book shows the formation and development of the national arts, creates the images of talented masters (I.Baizakov, A.Kashaubayev, K.Munaitpasov, A.Zatayevich and others). “Snowstorm”, the novel of I.Shegolikhin, was published in 1961; G.Chernogolovina’s tale “Unrainy Season” and novel “Risk Zone” were published in 1981. In the novel of M.Simashko “Commissar Zhangildin” the bright image of the representative of the Kazakh people was shown. Poetry saw the negation of talented poets: V.Antonov, A.Yelkov, D.Ryabukha, L.Skalkovsky, F.Morgun, V.Smirnov, M.Chistyakov and others.

In 1977 the section of Korean literature starts operating in the Union of Writers of Kazakhstan. Writer and poet Kim Dyun (1900-1980) is the author of poem “Aliya” dedicated to the Kazakh girl-warrior A.Moldagulova (1960). Since 1937 spectators saw more than 100 plays of Korean playwrights in the republican Korean theatre. Plays of M.Auezov “Karagoz” and “Kobylandy”, of G.Musrepov “Kozy Korpesh – Bayan Sulu” as well as plays of O.Bodykov and K.Mukhamedzhanov were made in the Korean language.

German poets and writers are successfully working in the republic. Poetical works of R.Jacquemien, K.Velz, I.VArkentin, and prose of A.Reimgen, V.Klein, D.Golman, A.Debolsky, G.Belger were published.

In 1932 Uigur section was organized. In this period the poetry of I.Sattirov, I.Iskanderov were successful and plays of Z.Assimov, A.Sadirov and K.Khasanov were staged. Tale collections of K.Abdullin, Z.Samadi, Z.Bosakov, T.Tokhtamov, M.Zulpykarov, A.Ashirov, N.Baratov, P.Sabitova, as well as the poems of I.Bakhtiya, M.Hamrayev, I.Bahniyazov, R.Kadyri, A.Ganiyev, M.Abdurakhmanov. A.Kunanbayev’s “Poems” (1987), S.Mukanov’s “Baluan Sholak” (1987), and G.Musrepov’s “Her Name is Ulpan” (1987) were translated into Uigur and published. Famous writers and poets receive support from the state; D.Snegin, G.Belger, M.Simashko received the Peace and Spiritual Harmony Award from the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan.

Sabit Mukanovich Mukanov (1900-1973)

Writer, literary critic, member of the Science Academy of KazSSR (1954), the prize winner of the Science Academy of KazSSR (1966), the winner of the State Abai Prize of KazSSR (1968).

The Chairman of the Board of the Union of Writers in Kazakhstan (1936-1937, 1943-1951), member of the Board of the Union of Writers in Kazakhstan (1951-1973).

He received two Lenin Awards and two Red Flag Awards, “Honour Sign”, medals and Honourable diploma of the Supreme Council of KazSSR.

He was one of the classicists of Kazakh literature. He wrote novels “Botagoz”, “Syrdariya”, autobiographical trilogy “School of Life”. In 1974 after his death his ethnographic work “National Heritage” was published where ancient folk legends, shezhire and mode of life of pre-revolutionary Kazakhs, their material and spiritual culture had been studied.

Akhmet Baitursynov

In 1895-1909 he was teaching in aul volost colleges in Aktubinsky, Kostanaisky and Karkaralinsky uezds. In 1905 he starts taking part in the political activity. He was one of the authors of “Karkaralinsky petition”. For the critics of tsar administration in 1909 Baitursynov was imprisoned. In 1913 Baitursynov opened the newspaper “Kazakh”. After the establishment of Soviet authority Baitursynov deals with the enlightenment activity. Since 1919 he was the member of Kirrevkom, he became the national enlightenment commissar, the member of Soviet Central Executive Committee and Kazakh Central Executive Committee. In those years, study materials on Kazakh language, textbooks in order to increase literacy, ABC book written by Akmet Baitusynov. The ABC book had several editions in the twenties. However as a former member of Alash-Orda in 1920 he was arrested and exiled to Arkhangelsk and his wife with his daughter Sholpan were exiled to Tomsk oblast. But in 1934 thanks to the intercession of Peshkova (wife of Maxim Gorky) who worked in the Red Cross Commission, Akmet Baitursynov was freed. However, in October 1937 he was again arrested and shot.

He was a poet, the founder of the first national newspaper, translator, teacher and one of the organizers of the autonomous republic Alash-Orda. He had the positions of the deputy chairman of Kazakh revolutionary committee, the first national enlightenment commissar; he was also a member of Kazakh Central Executive Committee. Together with hundred thousands of innocent Soviet citizens Baitursynov was declared the enemy of the nation.

For the first time he was repressed in 1929. He was in the exile in Arkhangelsk oblast till 1934. He came back to Almaty. In 1937 he was repressed for the second time. On 25 November 1937 he was executed by shooting. He was rehabilitated only in 1988.

Iliyas Zhansugurov

He wrote about love, beauty of nature, art of akyns and kuishy (“Nightingale”, “Singer”). He addressed the social problems (“Sad Bird”). He fought for humanism and justice, protested against anti-people laws created for the sake of the rulers (“Inhuman is the Law”). Early creating work of Zhansugurov developed the democratic traditions of Kazakh literature of the end of XIX - beginning of XX century. Zhansugurov took part in the compilation of textbooks for schools, the first calendar, dealt with literary critics, translation, and preparation for the publication of Kazakh folklore works. The classic of Kazakh literature was the poem of Zhansugurov “Kulager” (1937), which was the real masterpiece. He translated into Kazakh the works of A.Pushkin, M.Lermontov, N.Nekrasov, M.Gorky. He was illegally repressed, then rehabilitated in 1958. Many schools, settlements, farms and Taldykorgan pedagogical institute are named in his memory.

Wuthin a short period he managed to create such poetic masterpieces as poem “Kulager”, philosophical-lyrical work “Kuishy”, the deep meaning of which has not been revealed yet by Kazakh literary critics, and the translations are far from even the approximate delivery of the whole treasury of the poetic words and mood of this unsurpassed in Kazakh poetry “pearl”.

Chokan Valikhanov

Chokan Chingisovich Valikhanov (his full name is Mohamed-Khanafiya and Chokan is his nickname given by his mother) was born in November 1835. His childhood passed in the steppes, amongst the people. He received his primary education in his native village of Kushmurun in a Kazakh private school where he learnt Arabic, got the idea about the oriental poetry and studied painting. The latter was his real passion and Chokan’s sketches show that he was a very talented artist. His father was attracting Chokan to collect the materials regarding legends and introduced him to the highly-educated Russian scientists, engineers and officers.

Chokan’s further career was predetermined by the family tradition and by the education he had received: he was a Russian officer, intelligence officer, diplomat and a functionary fulfilling various orders from the tsar administration. In the cadet corps he started to love travelling and he had the dream “to open unknown Asia to the world”. The global science received his notes about the brilliant extract from “Manas” – “Death of Kukotai Khan and His Commemoration”.

The most ancient and stable roots of Kazakh mentality were reflected in his several studies, in particular, in the articles “Shamanism Traces of Kyrgyz (Kazakhs)”, “On Islam in Steppe”. In the study of Zoroastrian shamanism nature Chokan is the undisputable leader.

He devoted his articles “Ancient Legends of Great Kyrgyz-Kaisats Horde”, “Zhungar Essays” and others to Kazakh oral folklore. Emphasizing the poetical and musical soul of people, Valikhanov tells us the legend according to which there is a magic bird that, when flying over the earth, provides people in the shade of its wings with the small part of its ingenuity. The legend is like that: the bird flew over the Kazakhs so low that they received the musical talent. Valikhanov underlines also that the poetical folk creating work of Kazakh people gives the “full picture” of its “historical and spiritual life”. His comments about features of the akyn-improvisers, about the types of songs, about the rhythm of Kazakh poems are very interesting. He wrote down the folk epic poem “Kozy-Korpesh and Bayan-Sulu”.

Magzhan Zhumabayev

25.06.1893 - 30.12.1937

Magzhan Zhumabayev is the great Kazakh writer, poet, and publicist, one of the founders of new Kazakh literature. His poems, tales and stories are written with acute tragic element, which expresses the feeling of responsibility for the people and appeal to sources and crucial moments in history. At the same time Magzhan accepted common to all mankind artistic and scientific heritage from Shakespeare, Pushkin, Solovyev to symbolism, technocracy and Schpengler. Popular nowadays existential motifs can be clearly seen in his creating work. After so many years of concealment we revealed Magzhan Zhumabayev anew.

Magzhan Bekenuly Zhumabayev was born on 25 June 1893 in Sassykkul Tract if Sary-Aigyr volost in Petropavlovsky uezd. He died on 19 March 1938 in Alma-Ata. Magzhan comes from a rich family; his father was bii, the head of the volost. When he was four he started to learn oriental languages and literature. Magzhan’s early poems were not preserved. He continued mastering the Arabic, Persian and Turkish languages in Begishev madrasah in Kzyl-Orda having obtained there secondary Moslem education. In 1910 he entered Galiya madrasah, the higher Islamic educational institution in Ufa City. But following the advice of his teacher, Galymzhan Ibragimov, who became the classicist of Tatar literature, Magzhan started looking for other ways of education. With Ibragimov’s help, young Magzhan’s works were published for the first time in 1912 in Kazan. In the same period with the support of Mirzhakyp Dulatov and Akmet Baitursynov he started learning Russian, getting acquainted with Russian and European literature, and cooperates with “Kazakh” newspaper. In 1913 Magzhan entered Omsk Pedagogic Seminary. During these years in Omsk Magzhan took part in the creation of “Birlik” (Unity) Society; he was the editor of the hand-written magazine “Balapan”.

With his first steps in poetry Magzhan reveals his unique talent. He gained wide recognition thanks to his poetic collection “Sholpan” (1912). The first stage of the creating way covers the period from 1910 to February 1917. His poems based on the historical facts appealed to the national fight for liberty. In his poem “Past” Magzhan called the names of fight heroes against Zhungar conquerors. The real hero for him was the one who “remembered about his nation”.

He dealt with journalism; he worked in the area of enlightenment, published in 1922 the book named “Pedagogy”. For certain time Magzhan was the editor of the newspaper “Bostandyk Tuy” (“Freedom Flag”) published in Omsk and after 1921 in Petropavlovsk.

Intensive and fruitful life period of Zhumabayev is related to Tashkent where he moved in 1922 and where he created his tale “Batyr Bayan”, poems about Turkestan, articles about Akan Sery, Bukhar Zhyrau, Abubakir Divayev. He cooperated with the newspaper “Ak Zhol” and the magazine “Sholpan”. Here, in Tashkent, and in Kazan in 1922-23 he published two collections of poems where he had revealed his gifts. Magzhan belonged to the generation of the poets, which for the first time in the regions Central Asia and Kazakhstan joined two directions of spiritual development of the nations in East and West.

Sultanmakhmut Toraigyrov

Sultanmakhmut Toraigyrov is a great Kazakh poet-democrat. He was born on 29 October 1893 in Kzyl-Tau rayon of Kokshetau oblast; he died on 21 May 1920.

When he was four Sultanmakhmut lived in Bayan-Aul rayon of Pavlodar oblast. When he was thirteen he started writing poems. He wanted to study in the cultural centres; he read a lot striving to obtain modern complete education. However he had to start working. First he worked as a school teacher, and then since the autumn of 1913 he was a secretary in the editorial staff of the first Kazakh magazine “Aikap”. In the magazine he published his poems, publication and essays. Since 1914 he worked as a teacher again in Bayan-Aul and Katonkaragai, in the autumn of 1916 he managed to take courses in Tomsk. Those years he formed his writing credo.

“Having entered the way of the search for truth I will not recede, I will bear all the difficulties, I will overcome the fatigue and I will go through all the misunderstanding. And I will be faithful to my ideas”, says the poet. After the February revolution in 1917, trying to be closer to the people he came to Semipalatinsk. He had joyful feelings like all the other intellectual people of the Kazakh society during that period. “I want to be the sun, which would shine through the darkness for my people”. Sultanmakhmut supposes that the era of freedom has come and it is the time for each nation to live independently and to create its own country. Toraigyrov starts contacting the people from Alash-Orda Party, publishes their articles in “Sary-Arka” newspaper. Supporting the ideas of the “Alash” leaders he admires them in his poems.

Sultanmakhmut wrote about the destiny of Kazakh women and promoted their emancipation. His lyrics are rich with the philosophical thoughts but his poetry quality was revealed especially in poems “Life of Wandring” (“Adaskan Omir”) and “Poor Man” (“Kedei”, 1922). It is the first poem, in which each chapter is related to a certain life period of a man and which criticizes social injustice and violence together with general philosophical and didactic thoughts. But more clearly the critique of social injustice and violence is expressed in the second poem, in which he showed the specific life of a poor Kazakh man. Toraigyrov is the author of one of the first Kazakh novels “Beautiful Kamar” (1933), one of the founders of this genre in Kazakh literature.

Thinking about what Kazakh people need, Sultanmakhmut gives the priority to education, culture, science and engineering. In his opinion, education and training must pay great attention not only to body care but also to conscience, soul and spirituality. Without this, none of the technical achievements will make people happy. Can Kazakh people adopt the level of European civilization? With great optimism Sultanmakhmut forecasts that at most in 30-40 years Kazakh people will reach the European level of education, science and engineering. Level of Toraigyrov’s philosophical thoughts during that period can be judged by the titles of his articles and poems: “Socialism”, “Is This Justice?”, “Why do I Live?”, “Lost Life”, “During the storm”, “Belief”, “Who Is God?”. In these articles the philosopher leans on the works of Russo, Tolstoy and Marxists.

The last unfinished poem of Sultanmakhmut was poem “Aitys” with the subtitle “Competition of Urban and Steppe Akyns”. In the form of a dialogue the poet wanted to show the change of the old mode of life.

Saken Seifullin

12.6.1894, nomadic aul in Nildinskaya volost - 1939

In the summer of 1918 he was captured by the troops of ataman Annenkov but escaped. He is considered to be one of the creators of modern Kazakh literature. He became famous already before the revolution having issued in 1910 the collection of lyrical poems “Past Days”. In 1918 he became a member of Revolutionary Communist Party, a participant of the fight for the soviet authority in Kazakhstan, a member of Akmola Revolutionary Committee. In 1918 he was captured by the “white” forces but escaped. Since 1919 he was conducting the activity for the party in Akmolinsk and since 1920 in Orenburg. In 1922-25 he was the Chairman of Council of National Commissars of Kazakh SSR. In 1924-37 he was the chief editor of “Trudovoi Kazakh” newspaper, and since 1937 he was the chief editor of “Trudovoi Front”. He issued the poem collections “Unbroken Horse” (1922), “On the Peak of Life” (1928), poem “Sovietstan” (1926) and “Albatross” (1933). In his works he praised V. Lenin etc. In 1927 he wrote the historical memoir novel “Hard Way, Hard Transition”. In 1938 he was arrested and repressed. He was rehabilitated after death.

He studied in the Russian-Kazakh school, which he finished in 1908. In 1913 he graduated from Akmola College, after which he entered Omsk Pedagogic Seminary. Since 1920 he lived and worked in Orenburg. From 1922 to 1925 he was the Chairman of the Soviet National Committee of Kyrgyz (Kazakh) ASSR, member of Central Executive Committee. His first collection of the poems (“Past Days”) was published in Kazan. In Orenburg he published the collection of poems “Unbroken Horse”, plays “Road to Happiness”, “Red Hawks” and other works. During the twenties he published books “Dombra” (1924), “Express” (1926), “On the Peak of Life” (1928). Seifullin wrote poems “Sovoetstan”, “Kokshetau”, “Separated Swans”, “Albatross”, stories “Aisha”, “Fruit”, “Earth Diggers”, novel “Thorny Path”. There are chapters of two unfinished novels “Those Years” and “Our Life”. He was the victim of political repressions.

Mukhtar Auezov

16.9.1897, Chingistau Tract, Chingisskaya volost, Semipalatinsky uezd - 27.6.1961.

The great work of the Soviet literature is the novel-epopee “Abai’s Path” about the life of the great poet enlightener Abai Kunanbayev. The novel shows the difficult life of the Kazakh society in the 2nd half of the 19th century, feudal-tribe and class fight, hard life of the workers, the rise of the protest against oppression, the growing influence of advanced Russian culture. The first book of the epopee is novel “Abai” (volumes 1-2, 1942-47) received the State USSR Award in 1949. In the second book “Abai’s Path” (volumes 1-2, 1952-56) he showed the difficult path of the poet and the social activist who became the protector of the workers. The language of the epopee is bright, and it shows the specifics of that epoch. Book “Abai’s Path” (part 1 – “Abai”, part 2 – “Abai’s Path”) received Lenin Award in 1959. The novels are translated into many languages. The series of essays “That is How Turkestan was Born” (1956) is one of the best Kazakh literature works about the virgin lands. Auezov also wrote “Essays About India” (1958). The first book of the unfinished contemporary epopee “Young Tribe” was published in 1962 after his death. Auezov is a great scientist, the founder of Abai Studies, the author of the studies on the history of Kazakh and Kyrgyz Literature and Folklore. He received three awards.

Mukhtar Omarkhan-Uly Auezov was born on 28 September 1897 in Chingizskaya volost, Semeisky uezd (now Abai rayon, Semipalatinsk oblast). He died in 1961. The Auezovs were relatives of Abai Kunanbayev’s family. Mukhtar’s grandfather, Auez, was a friend and an admirer of Abai. Mukhtar Auezov received his education in the Russian school, in the pedagogic seminary, at the philological faculty of Leningrad (Saint-Petersburg) University, and he also took the postgraduate courses in Central Asian University.

The first and the earliest work of Auezov was play “Yenlik-Kebek” based on the folk legend about the tragic destiny of two young people. The plot is similar the story about the enmity of Montechi and Capuletti in Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”. Play “Yenlik-Kebek” was staged for the first time in the yurta of Abai’s wife, Aigerim, and since that it is staged in many Kazakh theatres.

Productivity of Auezov’s creativity was expressed in his creation of the large number of stories, tales, plays, most of which were filmed and entered theatrical repertoire.

Auezov’s creative search was completely finished in the novel-epopee “Abai’s Path”, which consists of four books. The book shows the formation of Abai’s personality in close relationship with the fate of Kazakh people depicted in all its versatility and depth.

The first book is the youth of the future poet. The second book shows the growth of Abai’s social awareness and the development of his poetic talent. The second book already shows the relations with other nations in the former tsar empire, primarily with Russians. The third book depicts the poet at a mature age who is fighting against the indisputable moral authority. The book contains edifying elements traditional for the oriental literature in general and for Kazakh literature in particular. Abai acts here as the preceptor for the youth in the renovated steppe. In the fourth book, special in its content and style, Abai is a philosopher and a citizen who has gone through many disappointments and losses but who has retained his enlightenment ideals, faith to the national enlightenment; and the book shows the fighter’s inexorability. The life of Abai ends tragically. He loses the last of his beloved sons, Magash. He hoped that Magash would continue his ideas. Struck with grief and hard disease Abai dies sadly thinking about the destiny of a lonely tree slain by the storm and dying in the ignorance whether its seeds will grow somewhere else.

Auzeov is the first collector, compiler and editor of post-revolutionary books of Abai Kunanbayev, his first scientific biographer and researcher of the great Kazakh man’s creativity. It is remarkable that young Auezov has addressed to “Manas”, the greatest work in Kyrgyz folklore. Since the thirties, Auezov is not only studing literature but he is also an artistic critic who wants each national literature to make great contribution into the global art treasury. He highly assesses the creating work of Samed Vurgun and Musa Dzhalil.

Before starting novel “Abai’s Path” Auezov studied the poet’s biography and creating works. Collection of materials about Abai had curious features, not familiar to many authors of the historical novels. The thing was that there was no printed and written data about the life, appearance, work and personality of Abai – no personal archives, no diaries, not even the written memories about the poet. Auezov had to collect all the biographical data taken as the basis of the novel by means of interviews with the people who had personally known Abai. During those years young Auzeov saw old Dilda, Abai’s first wife. A lot of precious details about Abai were described by his faithful Aigerim who died ten years after her husband’s death.

Abai Kunanbayev

10 August 1845 - 06.07.1904

Abai Kunanbayev is a great poet, writer, social activist, founder of the modern Kazakh written literature, reformer of culture with regard to the intimacy with Russian and European culture based on the enlightened liberal Islam.

Abai was born on 10 August 1845 in Chingiz mountains in Semipalatinsk oblast (according to the modern administrative division). His mother was one of four wives of Kunanbai, senior sultan of Karkaralinsky okrug department. Abai’s family was aristocratic; grandfather (Oskenbai) and great grandfather (Irgizbai) were ruling in their clans in the capacity of rulers and biis. He was lucky in the sense of family richness and home upbringing because his mother Ulzhan and grandmother Zere were very charming and gifted personalities. Thanks to his mother, the name given by his father “Ibrahim” was replaced with “Abai” (it means “thinking, prudent”). Under this name he lived and entered the history.

Since his childhood he was accustomed to oral folklore and his home studies with a mullah continued at the madrasah of Akhmed-Riza imam. At the same time he studied in the Russian school and by the end of the fifth year of studies he started writing poems. When he was 13, his father Kunanbai started to involve Abai into the administrative work of the clan ruler. He had to understand the inter-clan suits, quarrels, intrigues and gradually he got disappointed with the administrative-political activity and this led to the situation when at the age of 28 Abai started to devote himself more to self-education. But only by the age of forty he realized he was a poet and a citizen and put his own name under the poem “Summer” (before that in all his compositions he was using the name of his friend Kokpai Zhantasov). A significant push in the revelation of Abai’s talent was his communication with the exiled Russians, E.Mikaelis, N.Dolgopolov, S.Gross. Abai’s address to Russian culture, which had gone through the period of “storm” in XIX century in literature and arts, was natural because in oriental tradition a word was evaluated rather high. Abai loved the poetry of Pushkin, Lermontov, Goethe and Byron. In his translations of these authors into Kazakh he subtly translated the spirit of the original poems and adapted them for the attitude of Kazakhs.

Within 20 years Abai’s talent was flourishing diversely. He gains great authority, respect and unbelievable popularity in the steppe. Akyns, singers, composers started to come to him, talented young people tried to communicate with him. Social-philosophical and literary schools were created.

But Abai as the master of philosophy caused great jealousy, wild бешенное animosity expressed in the most guileful forms. The last strokes of the destiny are related to the death of Abdrakhman and Magaui. He refused from curing the disease and voluntarily destined himself to death. He was buried not far from his winter settlement, in the valley of Zhidebai, near Chingiz Mountains, when he was under 60.

It is impossible to understand the tragic feeling of solitude felt by Abai, without the consideration of two circumstances. The first, the most principal, circumstance is in the impulse for the transformation of culture, which was given by Abai. We mean, first of all, verbal culture and poetical tradition. Kazakh specific folklore, in spite of its traditionalism, did not exclude individual creativity even before Abai, and the evidence for this is the names of akyns, singers, narrators, composers, improvisers and poets. But Abai introduced completely new wave to all this. To Kazakh culture he brought the whole flow of images, forms (satire, lyrics, revelations, landscape lyrics, confession) of the plots, ideas from other cultures and traditions. And it meant the inclusion of Kazakh culture into the world of great culture of classical civilizations and adjustment of the spiritual experience specific to the latter to the traditional culture of Kazakhs. Amongst these foreign cultures there is Arabic culture in its largest documents like “Koran” and “Thousand and One Nights”, and also Hellenistic traditions of Aristotle and Alexander the Macedonian. Then there is the thousand-year old Persian culture and literature, which in the tradition of Abai’s family entered his mind since his childhood thanks to the works of Firdousi, Saadih, Nizami, Navoi, Fizulih. There is world of Russian culture in its connection with European culture and traditions completely new and unexplored for Kazakhs before Abai. And the basis of the West’s perception is the deeply understood East, devotion to Islam.

There are plots, which are destined to roam. Like the myth about a one-eye monster brought from the steppe to the Mediterranean in the figure of Homer’s Polyphem, one of Goethe’s plots via the Russian valleys came to the steppe in the form of the poems set by Abai to music. Lermontov translated Goethe’s “The Wanderer’s Night-Song”. It was the basis for Abai to write the elegy “Karangy Tunde Tau Kalgyp”. Such completely different cultural branches were organically adjusted by Abai to the tree of Kazakh tradition. And in this adjustment we cans see the strength of Abai, power of his cultural influence and incomparable national creativity. It amazes how Kazakh singing folklore is similar to opera but it can be understood in the context of Abai’s improvisations. It will not be completely logical if we do not mention that Abai has created not the lyrics and melodies but also he has great personality influence. He acted as an advisor, narrator, unobtrusive instructor, teacher, and organizer of the unofficial school for talented poets and writers, enlightener who has been generously sharing everything he knows with other people.

All of the foregoing seems to speak about the strong creative connection with the surrounding people, with the people, about the mutual sympathies and responses excluding the possibility of tragic solitude. But life, as our Zoroastrian ancestors have mentioned, does not consist of only good things. It has the place for the evil, which always tries to destroy the good. Previously, such situations could be explained rather simply, and ordinary and even sophisticated people could be prepossessed. For example, they say that there were tsar administrators who did not like Abai’s satire and critics and did not like his relations with the exiled politicians. There were local rulers who hated Abai for his love and compassion for poor people. It is a beautiful scheme but too simplified. Actual life is more complicated and more terrible. In ancient times people said that “no prophet in his own land”. Around Abai there were his haters and enemies, envious persons and “big bosses” who traditionally thought of themselves as the “owners of the thoughts”. And as Socrates said, a really great person, a “noble man” for them is a “small man”.

It is necessary to see the Kazakh society of Abai times in general. It is first of all a colony with all the attributes of imperial and colonial psychology, arrogance, wilfulness and impudence. But at the same time it is a traditional society where the whole life of a man is seen and where a person is not left alone with his cares and problems because people will try to enter his very soul and to make him suspicious and hostile, besides the rumours. Those times police shadowing, investigations, hostile actions, even murderous assaults, slander are on the surface of the relations. Lermontov was completely right: he rebelled against the world, alone as always, and killed. But Abai’s creativity with all its tragic nature, despite the difficulties of the fate, has entered the mind of people and still continues to feed it with fruitful impulses. Abai’s enemies could not do what they wanted: to close up the ring around the poet so that he is unheard. But they made a major mistake: Abai’s words can not be unheard.

Special place in Abai’s creativity belongs to “Kara Soz”. Under this title he combined 45 “Words” – small incomplete fragments expressed in the thoroughly artistically selected prosaic style. This is direct talk to a reader, sincere conversation, interview, and at the same this is “the mind of cold observations and the heart of sad notes”. This is also a life philosophy of a man on the background of the people’s destiny. The term “kara” (black) in the combination of the term “soz” (word) has many meanings: this is prose in contrast to rhymed speech and text. This is indication of sadness and, finally, the symbol coming from the important and significant Turk tradition. By its genre “Kara soz” is close to what is called “bilik” in Chingiz tradition, witted sayings, narration about the life example, which has the meaning of a sample. According to European tradition, this genre is “maxim”, “aphorisms”, and “conversations”. But actually “Kara soz” is confession. The Russian translation of the title is “Words of Edification” but it sounds completely mentor-teaching. But we have to reckon it as the statements to the world and, first of all, thanks to its genre known in the world literature from the times of Marcus Aurelius, Peter Abelard, Blaise Pascal and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. But for Turk literature and Kazakh, in particular, because of primarily epic nature (but not only) the “revelation of the soul” found in the “Words of Edification” is the unexampled phenomenon. Confession is an extremely responsible genre. It requires the author to be completely honest and sincere; it can not contain even small lies and insincerity. Abai wants to be heard by people. The outline of the narration starts from the pure individual beginning: “Have I lived the good life until today but I have done so much: but now, when I see the end of the path, when I am tired and my soul is fatigue, I realize the infertility of my good attempts, and I realize that the life of a man is vanity and caducity”. This is how Abai sums up the result of his life and explains his decision to write down “his thoughts”. “Maybe somebody will like any of my words and he will rewrite my word or will just remember it, and, if not, my words, as they say, will remain mine”. But the tragic nature is not in the usual saying about the caducity of life and vanity. “Although I survive I am really dead. I can not explain the reason: either it is powerless disappointment with the relatives, either this is the outcast nature of mine, or this is something else. I look quite healthy but inside I am dead. If I laugh I don’t feel joy. Whatever I do, talk or laugh, this is all as if not mine but belongs to someone else”.

Such emptiness means that the man has not received any spiritual calls from the outside, that there are no hopeful gleams and no confidence in the abilities of the surrounding people.

The severe claim presented by the poet to his countrymen Kazakhs does not have anything for consolation. Abai puts aside any external circumstance and starts talking about the those values and guiding lines, which bring Kazakhs to the blind alley: false self-conceit of superiority over the others, idleness, laziness, individualism and sectionalism, shallow vanity, scoffing and inane laughter, loss of conscience and lack of high endeavours, absence of unity and harmony, respect for thieves, criminals and cheaters: How could these bad qualities enter the blood of a “proud steppe man”? And is this “my people I love and to the heart of which I am trying to find my way?” That is why in the ninth Word he speaks not just about the personal spiritual feelings but about the state and destiny of people. Abai writes “I don’t understand what my attitude to my people is: do I feel hostility or do I love them? - If I had loved, then without any single doubt I would have approved their morals and amongst all the features I would have found at least one worth praising. My love would not have let my belief die; belief that my countrymen possess the qualities specific to a great nation. But I do not have this belief”.

The basic feeling penetrating “Words of Edification” is the pain due to the lack of development of the majority and hope, belief into the power of mind and internal potencies accumulated by history. “Who poisoned Socrates, who burnt Joan of Arc, who crucified Christ?” asks the poet. “Crowd did. It means crowd does not have brains. Manage to lead it to the right way. So that people stop to be a crowd, educated people are needed who will care about the people, it is necessary to generate the demand in culture and self-education. All these processes require purposefulness, because you can not reach the high levels of culture just at once. A man must at least get rid of the thoughts about daily necessities, because it is only a rare exception when somebody can overcome all the difficulties, which put the man into the framework of the fight for survival. The main point in the education process is that it must bring joy to a student. The poet protests against “violence from parents and mullahs who kill sincerity in children”.

In the pedagogical system of Abai the priority is given to moral examples and languages. Through the native language the window to the world opens for the first time. The width of views and humanity make you learn the languages of other nations.

Abai has studied the European culture and he promotes as the very important way to get accustomed to the achievements of the European civilization. “To know the Russian language is to open your eyes to the world” says Abai in the 25th Word. “Knowledge of a foreign language and culture makes a person to have equal rights with this nation and he feels free; and of this nation’s cares and fight are close to his heart he will never be aside”. Using the common rule that the one who can perceive foreign culture becomes closer to the wider view at the world, learns to be self-critical and learns to overcome the limitations, Abai insists one more time: “Russian science and culture is the key to understanding the world and if we gain it, the life of our nation will be much easier. For example, we would know different but at the same time honest methods for getting means of living and would teach our children to use them, we would more successfully fight for the better position of our people amongst other world nations”. And the end of this phrase “for the better position of our people amongst other world nations” contains the deepest root of the circumstance that the generation of intellectual people, which followed Abai and united around Alash-Orda, accepted Abai as the spiritual forerunner, as the spiritual leader for the revival of Kazakhs. These are Alikhan Bukeikhanov, Mirzhakyp Dulatov, Akhmet Baitursynov, Magzhan Zhumabayev, the whole brilliant group of talented people of the beginning and the first third of ХХ century who were killed by merciless bolshevist rulers. Abai’s followers were able to raise him to the new heights. First of all, they created intellectual communication because this was what Abai did not have. He felt himself in the intellectual vacuum. Abai, like Valikhanov and Altynsarin, actually were acting alone taking individual efforts. Secondly, those who continued Abai’s heritage related general moral requirements to the specific political program for obtaining independence and social-economic progress. This high level was lost during the years of totalitarian regime. And return to this level during the new history, when Kazakhstan has legally gained independence, would have been the best monument to Abai.

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