Hamid Ismailov

“We are a nomadic people. Today we pitch our yurts on one mountain pasture, tomorrow on another. Some people see their sense, their history, their fellow men as urban, and preserve all this in schools and madrasas, books and manuals. But we get on our horses and carry everything on our persons, and we have to keep it like this, on the move, in our minds and hearts.” — Hamid Ismailov, Manaschi

Sometime in between the first and the second volume of this Central Asian triptych, I travelled to Uzbekistan where Ismailov’s books cannot set foot because they are banned, and had a glimpse of the place that wrote the author.

Devil’s Dance is an intense initiation to Uzbek Literature. Of Strangers and Bees playfully meanders across the boundaries of time, literature, and geography. Manaschi is a geopolitically relevant finale that equals the force of Devil’s Dance.

But whether one speaks of the persecution of Uzbek writers throughout different regimes and implies that the writing process is akin to a dance with jinns;

the other of exile, elusive homelands, the value of community, man’s capacity for good and evil, or the search for truth and self through wanderers and bees;

and another of the trouble with imposed artificial borders, ethnic conflicts, the complexity of identity, or mystical bardic traditions;

all three uniquely celebrate the rich storytelling heritage of Central Asia — a heritage so crucial that a protagonist from the second volume boldly claims it to have shaped the shorelines of the great ocean that is Russian literature.

I love how this trilogy is a confluence of literary traditions rather than a defiance of the Western form. It manifests the power of stories, written, uttered, or observed; the power of stories when lived, as we become our stories and our stories become us; and the power of stories to take us beyond pathways of silk, even to places where only the rustle of words can go.

“It was a good thing the world had Uzbek literature.” — Hamid Ismailov, Of Strangers and Bees