One of present-day Kazakhstan’s most venerated writers retales – in bardic vein – a prose ‘ballad’ of ancient rivalry between his Kazakh forbears and Turkmen neighbours on their illimitable sun-scorched (or snow-carpeted) steppe, in unceasing nomadic contest for pasture, animals, and sometimes women. Here is a novella of ancient times, of savage retribution - of torture and hostage-taking - between the feuding Kazakhs and Turkmen. It tells of crude chieftainly ‘honour’ and vengeance. Its material is drawn from the oral tradition and folk memory of today’s Kazakhs, whose nomadic way of life was sacrificed to Communism generations ago. It is a product of meticulous research. The single redemptive theme is that of music – specifically the lute – in the hands of a young Turkman heir to the chieftaincy, Daulet, who strives to end the vendetta by the beauty of his art. The consequences of Daulet’s endeavour and sublime gift are gruesome. Yet in the end this is a story with a powerful moral.
Composed originally by Abish Kekilbayev in his native Kazakh, it was rendered into Russian by the author himself, who is celebrated as a novelist and playwright in his homeland. He fills the honorary post of Kazakh State Secretary. The Ballad of Forgotten Years is translated into English by Richard Samuel, CMG.
For the North European reader, The Ballad of Forgotten Years has echoes of Beowulf and the feuds between Frisian and Dane.
For the intellectually curious and culturally adventurous, indeed for any with an interest in the
antiquity of the vast nomadic steppeland from the Caucasus to the Tien Shan mountains and the Gobi, this little work is a rare gem.