When I was a child, I was fond of one book about a mischievous little girl who always was involved to incredible incidents. It was “Pippi Longstocking” by Astrid Lindgren. Kind and funny, it attracted like a magnet, I wanted to read this book again and again (I would probably re-read it with great pleasure even now). Recently, a children’s book by Kazakhstani prose writer and playwright Nuraina Satpayeva, “Alka’s Silver Tamga”, was published in Almaty. When I closed the last page, suddenly remembering the long-forgotten Pippi, I realized that if the book about Alka existed in my childhood, it would definitely be my favorite. Well, after Astrid Lindgred’s book, of course.
In fact, little Alka, who lives in Kazakhstan on the coast of the Caspian Sea, has nothing in common with the little girl from the small Swedish town. The eight-year-old Alka, unlike the nine-year-old Pippi, has a family: mother, father, grandmother, grandfather, uncles, a cousin, while Astrid Lindgren’s character lived alone, because her mother was an angel and her father – a traveling sailor. But it was the sincere childlike kindness and magic in Nuraina Satpayeva’s short stories that reminded me of the Swedish writer’s wonderful story.
Alka, who received a silver tamga as a gift from his grandfather, suddenly discovers that he understands the language of animals and birds. And not only understands, but also can talk to them. He begins to use this gift to help them. He rescues a baby seal from the nets and even finds the courage to beat braggart Timka, protecting his new friend; he saves a caracal that is used to living in the wild, not in a cramped apartment among people; a pelican that swallowed his glasses and almost died of starvation; a cheetah caught in a poachers’ trap; a wolf that fell into a pit; a turtle that fell from the sky and cracked its shell on the rocks.
“My son always gets involved into weird experiences, father complained. “He tries to rescue everyone and everything.”
“You better be happy he’s growing up to be a kind young man. He could as well play computer games all day long,” grandmother tried to calm him down.
Pippi, like Alka, also has a special gift: she is incredibly strong, and she uses her strength to protect the weak ones. But at the same time, due to her childish emancipation, she is always caught up in some stories. And so does Alka: he feeds his flamingo with dried apricots and the bird ends up getting sick; or he sneaks a ride on his grandfather’s pony, but the horse takes him to the steppe and Alka falls there and scratches his knees; or he goes on an “expedition” with his cousin, climbs the cliff and finds himself there without water and a chance to go down safely. But in these stories, the good that has been done always comes back: Alka helps the animals and the animals help Alka in return. That is, nature is generous and kind when a person treats it with respect. This is one of the main messages of the stories which has its roots in antiquity, when man and nature were closely intertwined (in fact, they still are, we just have forgot about it). Ancient people were completely dependent on their environment, deifying natural phenomena, vegetation, and animals. Hence the myths and legends of different ethnicities exist.
“The Blue Sky (Tengri) sent me to save your people from eternal oblivion; here I am, in the guise of a wolf, to help you, a bleeding little one. Now, if you want, I will become your wife…”
The wolf gave birth to ten sons from him. Their leader was Ashina, which in Mongolian means “noble wolf”. He is also considered the ancestor of the Ashina clan, which ruled the ancient Turks and Turkic nomadic empires. And each of the sons of the wolf became an ancestor of a separate Turkic people. According to the legend the ancestor wolf had a white withers. Hence the name of the wolf cub in Nuraina Satpayeva’s book – White-Paw, and his mother – the she-wolf Aktore (literally means “white leader”).
“I can sense the silver tamga on you and I know you speak my language. You must be a son of the Tore tribe, the tribe of The Great She-Wolf”.
“Am I? Does it mean I have the wolf blood running through my veins?” Alka wondered.
“Sure! Look at your two buns on your head! Just like us, only we have ears. If there is no blood in you, how would you understand the animal so well?” the she-wolf grinned.
“I thought it was the power of the silver tamga…” Alka couldn’t believe his ears.
“That’s true, you do own The Great She-Wolf engraved tamga. But it is not the only source of your gift,” Aktore growled.
Of course, it’s not about the silver tamga. After all, magic is not about having conversations with animals, but about understanding nature without words, like our forefathers.
If Astrid Lindgren’s countries, animals, and events in the book exist because her little character is a great storyteller, then the animals, birds, and reptiles in Nuraina Satpayeva’s book are not accidental. The author tells about the inhabitants of the Ustyurt Plateau in western Kazakhstan. Including rare, endangered, endangered, included in the Red Book – those that need to be protected and preserved as a species. That’s what Alka does, in fact.
One of the main functions of children’s literature is not only educational, but also behavioral. That is why in fairy tales love and good always triumph over evil. However, boring stories devoid of humor, simplicity and mischief will hardly hold child’s attention. And if the book does not contain illustrations, at which one may look and compare one’s own imaginary looks of heroes with the depicted ones, – it sunk. Nuraina Satpayeva’s book is written in simple and understandable language and tells about the wildlife of Kazakhstan, gives a clear idea of what is good and what is bad, and is supplemented with high-quality illustrations that attract attention. But the main feature of the book is that it is bilingual – in Russian and Kazakh, with a parallel page-by-page translation. Although there is a disadvantage to this concept. This parallelism somewhat disturbs the usual reading and perception, when you automatically move your eyes from page to page, but then bump into text in another language and stumble, because you have to turn the page to continue reading. However, by the middle of the book you forget about it. But this bilingual approach gives equal access to the book for both Kazakh- and Russian-speaking audiences. And a book of favorite stories is also an ideal aid in learning the language.
The magic that happens in children’s books is always kind, bright, and reassuring. In the last chapter, Alka asks Santa Claus to bring back his uncle who is drifting on a ship in the Caspian Sea,while Pippi and her friends, Tommy and Anika, swallow “pills” for a symbolic Christmas so that they never become adults. In “Alka”, the miracle happens literally: the uncle returns by the time the chimes strike; in “Pippi,” the children remain children. The story ends ideally to preserve the spirit of magic. And in Nuraina Satpayeva’s collection of stories, the ending also leaves a sense of hope for a magical continuation of fascinating stories. Even for adults.
Translated by Valeria Krutova, edited by Alyona Timofeyeva
Nuraina Satpayeva is a novelist, playwright. Graduated from the Kazakh Technical University with a degree in system engineering. Graduate of the Open Literary School of Almaty. Participant of the Young writers Forum in Lipki, the SEIP Foundation’s Forum of Children’s Writers, Drama.kz laboratory. Laureate of the drama competition “Litodrama”, finalist of the drama competition “Big Remark”, semi-finalist of the Voloshinsky Festival, drama competitions “Lyubimovka”, “Little Remark”, “Badenweiler”, “The author on stage”. Has been published in the magazines “Neva”, Literranova, in the “AST” publishing house collection of short stories.
Irina Gumyrkina is a poet, journalist, editor. Graduate of the Open Literary School of Almaty at poetry and literary criticism seminars. Poems were published in “Floating Bridge”, “Prostor”, “Etazhi”, “Zvezda”, “Periscope”, “Druzhba narodov”, “Younost”, “Formaslov”, “Khreshchatyk” magazines, in “45th parallel” and “Literary Alma-Ata” almanacs , on the “Polutona” website. Editor-in-chief of the Dactyl magazine.