The Beauty of the Steppe

Chokan Valikhanov was a native son of the Kazakh Steppe, and in the 1850’s went on several expeditions to . Upon reading his writing in a 1950’s Soviet collected works I picked up awhile back I came across a beautiful passage describing the splendor of his corner of the world. I’ve tried an amateur translation,…

The Silent Steppe and the Silent Bureaucracy

A retired school teacher sits down to write a book about his childhood. It is a humor filled, bittersweet memoir of poverty, freedom, family and tragedy. The book becomes a minor hit across borders. Angela’s Ashes? No, the book I’m talking about is Silent Steppe, by Mukhamet Shayakhmetov. In this book he wrote about his…

Dombrovsky’s Alma-Ata Part III

  The beginning of The Keeper of Antiquities brings the narrator, a fairly autobiographical Dombrovsky, to Alma Ata for the first time. On his first walk into the city he finds himself face to face with a remarkable building. Almaty’s main cathedral, ‘huge, many domed…multi-colored with cunningly molded architraves’, was and is to this day…

Dombrovsky’s Alma-Ata Part II

The Keeper of Antiquities is almost two books in one. One is the tale of the darkening shroud of Stalinism in 1937. The other is a love letter to Yuri Dombrovsky’s second home – Almaty. The two parts work together, however, in producing a coherent whole. Almaty’s portrayal as a wild, green, and bountiful city…

Stalin and the City: Dombrovsky’s Alma-Ata Part I

“It was in 1933 that I first saw that curious city, so unlike any other city in the world, and I still remember how it amazed me.” Almaty is a beautiful city, but one whose charms can be hard to convey to someone who hasn’t been there. These charms are different from other cities’. There…

Lord Curzon in the Land of the Seven Streams

In my a continuation of our look at the history of Almaty and Kazakhstan, here is Lord Curzon on the Semirechye (Zhetisu in Kazakh) in the late 19th Century. He details a region in transition, diverse populations coming in and out as the Russian and Chinese empires meet. Lastly I come to the Russian projects…