Lit in the Time of Coronavirus: Aitmatov

Hi everyone. If you’re in the US, I hope you are voting or have already voted (safely, of course).

Now, if you’re looking for something to entertain you that’s marvelous and life-affirming and not election-related, you’ve come to the right place.

Jamila, by Chingiz Aitmatov

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“We were crossing the steppe along the soft, beaten road. Daniyar’s voice soared, ever new melodies followed one another with astounding grace. Was he so gifted? What had happened to him? It was as if he had been waiting for this day, for this hour to come! And suddenly I understood his strangeness which made people shrug and smile–his dreaminess, his love of solitude, his silences. I understood why he spent his evenings on the look-out hill and his nights alone on the river bank, why he was constantly listening to sounds inaudible to others, and why his eyes would suddenly sparkle and his usually drawn eyebrows twitch. This was a person who was deeply in love. And I felt that this was not merely love for another person; this was different, it was a tremendous love–of life, of the earth. Yes, he kept this love within himself, in his music–it was his guiding light. An indifferent person could never have sung as he did, no matter how great his voice.”

Here’s another Chingiz Aitmatov story, which some have called the greatest love story ever.

It’s set in Kyrgyzstan and is about a woman (her name’s Jamila) whose husband is away fighting in World War II. She falls in love with a crippled soldier who was sent back from the front to help out in the large USSR-owned farm called the collective.

All of this is told from the perspective of a guy who’s reminiscing about his childhood and what got him interested in painting, so it’s technically two stories in one. That means it’s not really a love story in the traditional sense. It has traditional love, too, but it also has other forms, too (like love of life, family, etc.)

That was refreshing, especially as someone whose main experience with “love stories” was mostly-cheesy YA novels (with some important exceptions) filled with mushy and contrived love-triangles. To me it seems there has to be something aside from two peoples’ attraction to each other for a love story to not seem cheesy. Fortunately, Aitmatov’s story doesn’t seem cheesy. Actually, I was surprised by how real the characters felt. They felt like people I knew, unlike the people in those cheesy YA novels.

Well, I don’t think any of this is really giving you any real sense of what makes this story good. Let me take another crack at it…

I once heard someone say that certain events in real life are less profound than people imagine them to be. Given that reasoning, an understated love story would be more realistic and powerful than an over-stated one with love-hexagons thrown in for good measure. Such a love story would also exist in a world where it’s clear that the love story is just a part of the world, and not the entire world. Such a love story would thus benefit from the fact that realistic and engaging characters don’t have to be flattened out for the sake of contrived and steamy plots. Also, the ultimate meaning of this type of story wouldn’t be limited to just two peoples’ love for each other (like some YA novels where whatever plot that’s introduced gets thrown away for the sake of incessant obsessing about the love-interest). Finally, the ultimate meaning to such a story would resonate with any type of person, regardless of his or her hormonal state. That’s exactly what happens with Aitmatov’s story.

So there you have it. And the best part? You can read the story for free via one of the links on this Wikipedia page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jamila_(novel)

Happy Tuesday! See you next week.

One thought on “Lit in the Time of Coronavirus: Aitmatov

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