They do not reach a wide audience: why the works of Kazakhstani authors remain in the shadows, part 2

Doctor of philology, literary critic Alla Dzhundubayeva proposes why we all need to read and appreciate modern Kazakh literature. 

Translated by Alyona Timofeyeva

Alla Dzundubayeva

About the problems of Kazakhstani literature

I would single out three main difficulties that, in my opinion, Kazakh literature faces.

The first is the problem of publishing and distributing the works of Kazakhstani authors. There is a lot of talk about this on various platforms, but so far this issue relates only to commercial structures. It is difficult to solve, since it is more expedient from a business point of view to publish and sell well-known authors. And it turns out to be a vicious circle: our large domestic publishing houses do not work with local authors — they are not taken for sale by stores − they do not reach a wide range of readers — they stay unknown — it is unprofitable to publish and sell them.

For example, the works of the wonderful children’s writer Adelia Amraeva, who has several international awards, including the Krapivin Prize, the most authoritative in the field of children’s literature, are published by Russian publishers, but not ours. As a result, she is very well known in Russia — both in the reading and in the scientific community. Russian philologists study her works one after another, but only few people in Kazakhstan have heard about her, apart from a narrow circle. The same thing happened with the amazing Kazakhstani writer Tonya Shipulina, whose books became canonical children’s literature. I think domestic publishers should pay more attention to our authors.

Many of them release their works in so-called self-publishing, which requires large financial expenses, and then search for distribution channels for books. Now, of course, there are electronic platforms where e-versions of books can be placed, but all this does not have the necessary scale. At the same time, Kazakhstani readers with interest and gratitude would accept the books written by their compatriots if they knew about them. This also requires various literary events organized not only by writers for themselves, but also by other state and public structures − for a wide audience.

I am not talking about solutions to this problem, since I have not been deeply involved in this issue, but I think state support is crucial in popularizing Kazakhstani literature, in publishing and distributing the works of Kazakhstani authors, in helping to bring their books to readers. And as for children’s literature, it should, in my opinion, become all the more a state task related to the education of moral values among the new generation. For example, Elena Klepikova and Ksenia Rogozhnikova shared that when they gave their children’s books to regional libraries, they received the heartfelt gratitude of librarians in return, literally with tears in their eyes. And this is an indicator that the books of our writers are needed, and it is not the authors who should distribute them independently, but state structures that purchase them from the authors and transfer them to libraries. It would also be worth considering the possibility of introducing works by recognized modern Kazakhstani writers with appropriate translations for Kazakh and Russian schools into the school curriculum.

The second is the problem of translation. Many researchers of Kazakh literature note that the connection between its Kazakh-speaking and Russian-speaking directions is very mediocre. In the literary environment, the question of the interaction of these two literatures has been raised for a long time: whether they should come together, touch in any way, or can each go its own way, representing two currents of the general literary process in Kazakhstan. For now, the literary community is increasingly talking about the need to strengthen the connection between these trends, however, in my opinion, it will be possible to strengthen it only when the Kazakh—speaking reader will be able to get acquainted with Russian-language texts translated into Kazakh, and, conversely, the Russian-speaking reader – with Kazakh-language texts translated into Russian, and then both will perceive these texts as part of their national literature.

The issue is not easy both artistically and technically, as it demands professional translators, which is one of the main problems in literary practice all over the world, not only in Kazakhstan. Literary translation involves a symbiosis of a high level of knowledge of both languages − the target language and the original language − plus the artistic thinking of the translator, who becomes, in fact, the co-author of the work. An attempt at such interlanguage interaction was experimentally undertaken again by the OLSHA team, that recently created a Kazakh-Russian collection of short stories by young writers from different regions of Kazakhstan, which received the symbolic name “Togysu” (“Rapprochement”). In addition, “Dactyl” magazine together with OLSHA established its literary award Qalamdas, also aimed at bringing Kazakh and Russian literature of Kazakhstan closer. Time will tell whether both of these events will become a significant milestone in Kazakh literature, but it is obvious that these are the facts of the literary process going on in Kazakhstan.

The third problem is the remoteness of the scientific community from modern Kazakh literature, which I partly talked about earlier. Russian scientific philology studies, as a rule, the work of great, established, well-known Kazakh literary artists, from Abai to Olzhas Suleimenov. Without detracting in any way from the value of these works, I would like, nevertheless, to note the shortage of works on modern Kazakhstani literature, especially in regional universities, where the books of our authors sometimes simply do not reach the shelves. As far as I know, at the moment the most researched works in the Russian philology of Kazakhstan are the works of Dyusenbek Nakipov and Aslan Zhaksylykov. Meanwhile, the role of science in fixing the achievements of Kazakhstani literature should not be underestimated, since the names fixed by science are included in the history of a particular literature, determining the stages of the development of the literary process of the country. The role of philologists is also great in the popularization of Kazakhstani literature, as they carry this knowledge to their students — future teachers, who carry it further — to their students-schoolchildren — the younger generation of our country. And if, in addition to world literature, children will know their native literature — from the origins to the present − it will only strengthen our national culture.

About the difficulties of analyzing the creativity of contemporaries

Exploring the work of modern authors is very interesting, at the same time disquieting. On the one hand, you can communicate with them directly, unlike the classics of the past centuries, and on the other hand, this imposes a special responsibility for the conclusions drawn from their works. So, when I defended my doctoral dissertation, Aslan Zhaksylykov was appointed my reviewer. My experiences, in addition to the situation as a whole, were connected with the fact that one paragraph of the dissertation was devoted to his novel “The House of the Meerkat” − one of the parts of the “Dreams of the Damned” novel cycle. How happy I was when Aslan Zhamelevich noted how many interesting things I found in his text, and added (perhaps not literally this way, I am passing on the main essence from memory): “I don’t remember having that in mind, but I liked what you found, I agree with that.”

The same situation was with the work of my graduate student on Ilya Odegov’s story “Timur and his summer”. I sent it to the author, since we know each other, and at first he did not agree with our view on the poetics of the story, but after reading our analysis again, he changed his mind. Ilya’s conclusion eventually turned out to be the same as Mr.Zhaksylykov’s.

Such a discrepancy in the perception of the text by the author of the work and its researcher is a frequent situation when the author and the scientist are contemporaries. However, it does not indicate that one of them is wrong or the researcher is wrong, because the author knows better. There is a problem of creativity that arises when the conscious and unconscious beginnings of the creator of the text interact. The author himself is aware of the conscious part, while the researcher also sees the unconscious part. He is a professional reader.

There are also cases when the author’s opinion coincides with the opinion of the scientist. For example, Elena Klepikova and Kseniya Zemskova noted the accuracy of the topic’s wording of my report on their story “The Queen Does the Crawl”, since the topic (“Eschatological myth as the basis of the plot”), in their opinion, fully reflects the depth of reading the work.

This once again speaks in favor of how important it is to study modern literature, when a researcher has the opportunity of live contact with the author to obtain invaluable information from him, and the ordinary reader has the opportunity to learn from the author how his work was created, where the idea and images came from. This is how the interest in domestic literature is born.

Part 1:

Alla Dzhundubaeva was born in 1976 in the city of Dzhambul. Graduated from Taraz Regional University named after Dulati; got her master’s and doctoral studies in Kazakh National Teachers University named after Abai; doctoral defense in the Al-Farabi Kazakh National University. Doctor of philology, literary critic, author of scientific articles, co-author of monographs on literary studies and linguistics, co-author of a textbook on literature for 9th grades of secondary schools of Kazakhstan, teacher of literary courses. Co-founder of the educational centers “Dobrusha” and “”.

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