Back to AWR: essays about kazakhstani identity from participants, part 2


Irina Gumyrkina

One of the problems of Kazakhstani literature is fragmentation. Kazakh-language literature exists separately from Russian-language literature. And from this another problem follows — the absence of institutionalized translation practice. The Russian-speaking reader, as well as the Russian-speaking author, has no opportunity to get to know the works of Kazakh-speaking authors, namely modern ones. Whereas the classics have been translated during Soviet times, translation is a huge failure in the modern literary process. Everything that is out there is thanks to the sheer enthusiasm of the writers and poets who engage in translations only within the framework of seminars or simply do it for themselves. There is no such formulated objective — to translate the modern authors writing in Russian into Kazakh and vice versa, on any significant scale. 

Some authors attempt to fill this gap by publishing books in two languages. Last year a bilingual children’s book by Kazakhstani authors Elena Klepikova and Ksenia Zemskova, “Quarantine People”, was published. However, this is a very labor-intensive, time-consuming and costly process. While children’s literature justifies this approach in terms of audience coverage and distribution, this is unlikely to be the case, for example, with poetry. 

However, some Kazakhstani Russian-speaking poets have found their way co-habitation with the Kazakh language. They use bilingualism as an element to emphasize their Kazakh-ness. While the implementation of bilingualism in literary writing itself is far from a new trope, it is the use of Kazakh words or whole phrases that indicate a kind of symbiosis between the two linguistic cultures. It is difficult to say whether Kazakh-speaking authors use the same technique, given the aforementioned fragmentation of Kazakhstani literature.

Another problem is the lack of a unified platform where Kazakh-speaking and Russian-speaking authors would get to know each other. There is the literary magazine Prostor in Kazakhstan, which publishes only authors who write in Russian. And there is the online literary magazine Daktil, which, due to the lack of the translation institution and thus the lack of support from such an institution, has no opportunity – much as one would like to – to publish works in the Kazakh language.

The fragmentation is also in the fact that the Kazakh literary process is focused mainly in Almaty, partly in the capital, and in Shymkent, but it is local, not unified to the point where it could be discussed as a whole. And there is yet no possibility of uniting writers and poets from all over Kazakhstan. Although it would certainly be an advantage for Kazakhstani literature to be able to bring the two linguistic cultures together and progress in the same direction, on the same level, complementing each other.


Shapagat Serdaliqyzy

In our society, smart people hire people who are smarter than they are. We are all in fact either hired slaves or sellers of our labor and intelligence. To avoid starvation and to meet our most basic needs, we have to work for someone. We delude ourselves by thinking that we are doing it for our country or to benefit the company we work for. Many of us don’t have the courage to admit that we are just trying to survive.

Even if our work means nothing to society, we keep at it. Because we are afraid of being short on money, worried about food for ourselves and our family, not being able to pay our loans. These insecurities make us take jobs that we don’t like and find pointless.

On the one hand, it reveals willingness to submit to others. This phenomenon can be linked to “economic crime,” when an employer pays you money and forces you to do work that does not benefit the country’s economy.

This is discussed at length in David Graeber’s book, “Bullshit Jobs. A Theory.” Looking into what he believes to be pointless activities, he searches for answers to three basic questions:

 1. Why do people agree to engage in meaningless labor?

 2.What economic and social factors contribute to the proliferation of useless activities?

3. Why doesn’t any political scientist or cultural scientist consider it a serious social problem that the modern economy is turning into one based on meaningless labor? Why does no one seek to resolve this problem?

In analyzing the social problems linked to these issues, the author focuses on the fact that people engaged in work they don’t like treat this situation as  “normal.” He poses the question of how such “normality” arises. As you read this book, you begin to ponder the fact that the new activities that have emerged in today’s society can be very costly to the society. You begin to realize that this book is an important study of the twenty-first century labor market. You begin to pay attention to how the people around you make a living. In addition, when you think about the people you know, you wonder if what they do is good for society and what would change if that kind of activity would be cancelled.

Graeber, the author of “A Treatise on Meaningless Labor,” denies the idea that some activities and jobs are disappearing as a result of technological progress.  In his view, by examining the concept of pointless activities, it is possible to understand the essence of complex social problems of today.

The publication of this book triggered an outcry from businessmen, economists, financiers, sociologists, politicians, and specialists in other fields.  One could even say that a bomb exploded in the minds of all these people, and their rusty brains got dusted off and started working again.

The author uses concrete facts and compelling arguments to prove that there are meaningless activities in any field. Although the labor is pointless, the author discusses the common practice, the company or state funds are allocated for employees’ salaries.

It also leads to real professionals in many institutions settling for small salaries, while their bosses, even if he or she does nothing, gets much more simply because he or she holds a higher position.

According to the author’s research, some institutional heads hire assistants and secretaries, even if they don’t really need them. Some supervisors do this in order to give the impression of an “authority.” In this way they want to emphasize the public utility of their activities.

From the point of view of economic efficiency, a company should not pay salaries to workers it does not need. However, in reality things are different. Many companies now have deputy managers, personal secretaries, and personal drivers. But are these positions really necessary? Will the work stop if they do not show up?

Unfortunately, there are many workers in the job market who are willing to do meaningless work, and those who offer such work. There is still no system that determines the usefuloness of jobs. Executives who do not preform on high managerial level, but manage the financial resources of their companies, copy the management system of other companies and hire employees. As a result, jobs appear not because of production needs, but simply because some manager has decided to do so. Technological progress is not having the impact that we expected. The number of specialists and new activities is growing proportionately with technologies. And there still many of those asking the question “What is the point of such activities?”

Think about it: there are positions that seem unnecessary to an outsider. For example, in the administration of companies or public service. Nevertheless, these employees emphasize the importance of their work in every possible way, although they know that in fact it makes little sense. They feel that they do not bring any benefit to the organization, but they do not show it. Over time, they masterfully get into the role of loving their job. They become the boss’s yeasayers, their aggressive advocates trying to “patch up” problems that arise, scapegoats, and zealous control freaks. Technology allows them to use five days to do simple tasks that can be easily managed in one. Don’t you have to show everyone how important you are to the company? So they get trapped in meaningless work and can’t get out of it. “Such people make a habit of subjecting themselves to moral abuse.” The result is a growing number of dissatisfied people who blame themselves for not doing anything useful. They become discouraged and may even commit suicide.

To prevent such consequences, we must seriously consider why society is indifferent to criticism of a growing number of meaningless activities.

People love to talk about freedom. But at the crucial moment they are ready to tie their hands and feet by pointless work. People don’t really understand what real freedom means. They think superficially. In order to make Kazakh society think about this problem, we need to translate into Kazakh David Graeber’s book “Bullshit Jobs. A Theory” After all, we have many useless institutions and ministries. Maybe someone will think about it… Not only novels about lakes and deserts are worth the attention, business literature is important as well.

Irina Gumyrkina graduated from the poetry seminars of the Open Literary School Almaty (2017-2018 and 2020-2021) Winner of the “Russian Poetry World Cup 2017”, the All-Russian literary festival-competition “Crystal Spring 2018”, finalist of several seasons of the competition “45 gauge” and the festival “Russian Stil” (Germany, 2017). She was among the winners of the VI International Literary Competition dedicated to the memory of writer K. Simonov (2016), the literary competition of the Stradivarius Drum Arts Festival (Israel, 2017), she was in the long list of the “Russian Prize” (2016), the long list of the literary prize named after I. Annensen (Germany, 2017). I. Annensky (2019) and the Lyceum Prize (2020). participant in the literary festival in Kazakhstan (2019). Author of books of poems “Through Darkness and Light” (Almaty, 2020) and “Properties of Things” (Moscow, 2021).

Beketbayeva Shapagat Serdalikyzy was born on January 20, 1995, in the village Tartogai of Shieliysky district,Kyzylorda region. She studied to be a journalist. Since high school, she has won district, regional, city and national competitions. Her stories dealing wth religious themes brought her the first and third places.Her works were published in newspapers and online at,,,,,,,,,,,,,, worked as a journalist and editor of the information portal, freelancer of the international platform “” (Central Asian Bureau for Analytical Reporting) (for more than two years), as well as a correspondent of the regional newspaper “Kasipker kelbeti” (Portrait of a businessman) and the national magazine “Kasipker zhane mendeniet” (Businessman and culture), as a journalist for the national publishing house “”.

The Spirit of Magic. Review on Nuraina Satpayeva’s “Alka’s Silver Tamga” by Irina Gumyrkina

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.

A boy’s life is always full of adventures. Especially if he lives on the very shore of the Caspian Sea. But a real magic happened to Alka from Aktau – now he understands the language of animals and birds!

from the book’s cover

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, 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.