Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The Railway by Hamid Ismailov .

This novel was written in Russian in 1997 and was translated into English by Robert Chandler in 2006. Hamid Ismailov is employed as the Head of the BBC Central Asian Services and he chose Russian as the language of this novel set in Uzbekistan. The back cover of this books reads...

Set mainly in Uzbekistan between 1900 and 1980, The Railway introduces to us the inhabitants of the small town of Gilas on the ancient Silk Route, Among those whose stories we hear are Mefody- Jurisprudence, the town's alcoholic intellectual; Father Ioann, a Russian priest; Kara-Musayev the Younger, the chief of police; and Umarali-Moneybags, the old moneylender. Their colourful lives offer a unique and comic picture of a little-known land populated by outgoing Mullahs, incoming Bolsheviks, and a plethora of Uzbeks, Russians, Persians, Jews, Koreans, Tatars and Gypsies.

...You may wonder where Uzbekistan is, no need to worry as a handy little map is printed at the start of this 275 page novel. There is a preface written by the translator Robert Chandler where he describes the difficulties he faced translating this novel from Russian into English. This explanation plus the scenario depicted by the back cover really draws the reader in. So what do you get for your £7.99?

Ah, there is the rub, this book clearly does not live up to it's promise. I vote this book a MISS, I think it is very poor and it does not deliver it's promise of a cultural adventure. There is no real story to this book, it is like being on a holiday coach trip where the guide waffles on about people who have lived in the buildings you are passing by. At the end of this book you feel as though you have been on a day trip to Gilas, bought the T shirt and have forgotten everything the guide has told you. All the characters are shallow and they all tell rather dull anecdotes. One character does not have a name and is simply called The Boy. Whenever a chapter involves The Boy, that whole chapter is written in Italics which is a distracting nuisance. There is no central plot to this novel and Hamid clearly has not got the skill of storytelling. There is no structure to this book and Hamid's writing style is amateur. I think it was a waste of time translating this novel from Russian into English as the reader will take nothing away from reading this book. I shall not be buying another of Hamid's books and I suggest other bloggers do not waste their time with this novel. Do not think that there may be something of value written about railways or trains in this novel because the railway is only a feature of Gilas that all the characters can walk past and nothing more. Akmolin drives a diesel shunter and that is all that any transport enthusiast would learn from this novel!
You seems to have disliked this book :)

I liked it for couple of reasons. One it had an epical kind of quality. Instead of focusing on individual or family, it had a wider spectrum. The interlinking of plots characters and events where very 'informal'. Beyond all this, it came to me a natural progression of writing, rather than a forced, contrived style. I found it very refreshing.

Having said that, I appreciated your take on this.

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