Thursday, February 24, 2005

Chingiz Aitmatov

Chingiz Aitmatov, Central Asia's most revered novelist, inspired such a following in his native Kyrgyzstan that opposition activist Zamira Sydykova wrote her graduate thesis on his literature, identified with his characters through the trials of life and love--and named her first-born son after him. 'His works gave us a great push to talk about national identity, about sovereignty,' says Ms. Sydykova, a newspaper editor in the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek.
Kyrgyzstan, a small land of stunning mountain beauty in the heart of Central Asia, holds parliamentary elections on Feb. 27 and a presidential ballot in October. The ruling regime of President Askar Akayev, who is constitutionally bound to leave office later this year, has been cracking down on the opposition, fearful of losing power. It is not surprising that in this climate of national turmoil, opposition activists including Ms. Sydykova are disappointed that Mr. Aitmatov has kept his silence. He once used his influence to steer Kyrgyzstan through the troublesome early days of independence from the Soviet Union over a decade ago. He's sometimes referred to as the father of the nation.
But these days, the 76-year-old writer, who has spent the past 17 years as an ambassador, prefers to speak through his novels instead. 'Now it's a different situation, and then there's my age and all those other things,' says Mr. Aitmatov, who suffered a serious heart attack last year. At times, he appears tired of the petty, the small and the earthly--his latest novel features a philosopher-monk traveling in outer space and pondering weighty issues, such as human cloning. 'I was branded a cosmopolitan for it,' he says over tea in Kyrgyzstan's embassy in Brussels, where he serves as ambassador to France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg.

someone to add to the reading list methinks.


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