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 Chinghiz Aitmatov

Born:   December 12, 1928
Deceased:   June 10, 2008

Kyrgyz and Russian-language writer


Kyrgyz and Russian-language writer Chinghiz Aitmatov entered Soviet literature half a century ago, with the publication of his story Jamila later translated into tens of languages. Recent decease of Aitmatov seems to have put an end to the epoch of mighty national writers.

Chinghiz Torekulovich Aitmatov was born on December 12, 1928 in the Sheker Settlement of Talas Region of Kyrgyz Republic of the Soviet Union. His father Torekul Aitmatov, a prominent state figure of Kyrgyz Soviet Republic, on the wave of Stalinist reprisals was claimed as the people’s enemy, arrested in 1937 and shot in 1938. Chinghiz’ mother Nagima Khazimovna, a Tatar, was an actress in a local theatre.

Upon finishing secondary school the future writer entered Dzhambul Zootechnics College and graduated with honours. From 1948 to 1953 Aitmatov studied in Agricultural Institute in Frunze city. In 1952 he started publishing his Kyrgyz language short stories in periodicals. After graduating he worked for three years in a cattle breeding research institute at the same time moving on with writing and publishing short stories. In 1956 he finally entered the Higher Literary Courses in Moscow. In 1958, when a graduate of the courses, he had his short story Face to Face published in the Russian journal October. The same year saw the publication of his short stories in the journal Novy Mir (New World), as well as the coming out of his story Jamila that soon brought Aitmatov international fame and was translated into a great many languages.

From the propagandist viewpoint Jamila was a laudable story of a young woman breaking off with her family past of Kirghizia. However, it can also be read as a very sad and beautiful love story. The First Teacher was more straightforward: the story told about real disgusting patriarchal violence before which the love line grew pale. The story was soon filmed by Andrei Konchalovsky and went on general release. Thus, Chinghiz Aitmatov was in his thirties when his name became famous all over the country.

Aitmatov did not write much and it took him a long time to approach large prose: his first really big novel The Day Lasts More Than a Hundred Years saw the light not before 1980. by this time he already had his major stories published: The White Ship that (due to its screening) gained its author the State Award of the USSR and the wonderful, standing apart The Skewbald Dog Running along the Seashore. The latter brought him a strange label of “mystic social realist”. It can hardly be right: the story has nothing of realism, much less social realism. It is a poetical to the core, very powerful and elaborately composed text free of any ideology and epoch marks.

When Chinghiz Aitmatov had his novel The Day Lasts More Than a Hundred Years published his fame got ultimately established as that of a philosophic writer. His mankurt characters, i.e. rootless persons without kith or kin were long to be remembered: this Turkic word from an old legend interpreted by Aitmatov became part of vocabulary of the mid 1980s, the Perestroika epoch. The “heavenly” line of the novel tells how earthmen scared by appearance of a different mind, reject any contacts with the outer space and use weapons for that. This metaphor was easy to discern as a political diagnosis, especially with the people’s habit of that time to read between lines.

The year 1986 saw the publication of The Scaffold, Aitmatov’s biggest book. With lightning speed it turned a bestseller in the Soviet way: people stood in lines to buy the book, it was passed from hand to hand and was discussed all around. In The Scaffold the author spoke about the things that had been only to be kept silent about before: about God, faith, drugs, and uncommon common human cruelty. After publication of the novel the writer was reckoned among the realm of heavenly beings. It was the end of the epoch when were treated literature as something messianic. Later book by Chinghiz Aitmatov no longer had that powerful resonance: the society was changed, the people came to read differently and the writer himself spent much time and effort on his new positions of importance. However, the absence of tremendous glory in the afternoon of his life in no way depreciates the author’s merits and his powerful gift for prose. He trained generations of readers to keen feelings of conscience and pain, joy and miracle.

In 1990—1994 Chinghiz Aitmatov successfully worked as the ambassador of the USSR and Russia to the Benelux countries and till March 2008 was an ambassador of Kyrgyzstan to France, Belgium, Luxemburg and the Netherlands.

Chinghiz Aitmatov died on 10 June 2008 in a hospital of Nuremberg, Germany, where he was undergoing medical treatment from kidney failure. The great writer was laid to rest in the historical and memorial complex Ata-Bejit in the suburbs of Bishkek.


Tags: Russian literature Russian writers Chinghiz Aitmatov   

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