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Shayakhmetov, Mukhamet 1922-

Shayakhmetov, Mukhamet 1922-

PERSONAL:

Born 1922, in Kazakhstan.

ADDRESSES:

Office—Ust-Kamenogorsk, Postysheva St. 6-5, Kazakhstan.

CAREER:

Senior young pioneer leader, 1939-41; elementary school teacher, 1945-46; school director, 1947-50; head of regional department of education, 1951-56; secondary school director, Ust-Kamenogorsk, 1957-83. Retired since 1983. Military service: Conscripted into the Red Army (Soviet Union) during World War II, 1942-44.

WRITINGS:

Sud'ba: dokumental'naia povest', Aidos (Almaty, Kazakhstan), 1999, published in Russian, Mezhdunarodnyi klub Abaia (Zhidebai, Kazakhstan), 2002, translation from Russian by Jan Butler published as The Silent Steppe: The Story of a Kazakh Nomad under Stalin, edited by Anthony Gardner, Stacey International (London, England), 2006.

SIDELIGHTS:

In Sud'ba: dokumental'naia povest', translated from Russian as The Silent Steppe: The Story of a Kazakh Nomad under Stalin, former Soviet soldier and citizen Mukhamet Shayakhmetov tells the story of his life, from its beginning on the steppes of central Asia to his adulthood. "He grew up as a child rearing horses and livestock, wandering across large tracts of land with the family group as his people had done since time immemorial," explained a writer for the English PEN Web site. Sometimes he had to make these trips alone, at the young age of nine. In a review of The Silent Steppe, Guardian Web log contributor Daniel Kalder declared that "the clan system, which nowadays is largely a source of corruption and strife in central Asian politics, suddenly makes a lot of sense as the only guarantee of survival in such conditions, and the destruction of its traditional form reads like a tragedy."

One of Shayakhmetov's earliest memories is of the late 1920s and early 1930s, when Josef Stalin forced the ideals of the Communist revolution on rural areas far from European Russia. "Soviet authorities began dispossessing peasant holdings in 1928, confiscating livestock and deporting owners and families from their traditional homes," stated Robert Rosenberg, in a review of The Silent Steppe for the Moscow Times. Shayakhmetov's family was perceived as kulaks, livestock-owning peasantry that were, almost by definition, regarded as enemies of the Soviet state, and Soviet officials treat them as such. "Shayakhmetov dramatizes the Kafkaesque sham-trials, the fleecing of the peasants and the taxation of a people that had never dealt in cash," Rosenberg continued. "Everything his family owns is stolen by the state." The situation for the author's family became particularly desperate a few years later. In 1932, as the author describes, a drought and consequently failed harvest lead to a devastating famine affecting large areas of the Soviet Union. In Kazakhstan, this problem is intensified by the "collectivization of the nomads, who simply do not yet have the skills to run state farms," Rosenberg added. At the age of nine, Shayakhmetov must travel across the valley where his family encamped in the summer to take a bag of grain to the mill to be ground into flour. He is only familiar with an aul, "a seasonal encampment of the nomadic Kazakhs filling the lush valley with their yurts and various animals: camels, horses, cows, and sheep," inhabiting the valley, wrote Michael Hancock in a review for Registan.net. "This same steppe valley has been made silent [as in the title of the book] and desolate by the complete confiscation of all livestock into collective farms, forcing the nomads into a pauper's existence." Rosenberg concluded that Shayakhmetov recounts his family's attempts to find shelter and food. "Once again theirs is a nomadic existence—yet this is the wandering not of the stockbreeder, but of the starving and dispossessed."

Despite the destitution the Soviet government brought to his family, the author of The Silent Steppe remains almost devoid of bitterness and thoughts of revenge. "Shayakhmetov survived the seizure of his family's property and the destruction of his people's lifestyle to eventually become a teacher and then a regional head of education in Kazakhstan," declared a Kirkus Reviews contributor. Part of the way he survived was through a willingness to cooperate with the system that destroyed his family's way of life. "When offered a way to continue his education while bringing in a modest income—by becoming a Soviet Young Pioneer—Shayakhmetov leaps at the chance," stated Victoria James in a review for Geographical magazine. During World War II, he was conscripted (at the age of nineteen) into the Red Army, served in the epic Battle of Stalingrad, and was wounded, discharged, and left to find his own way home in the middle of a Russian winter. "What makes [The Silent Steppe] so powerful and engaging," concluded Hancock, "is that it is an honest, straightforward first-person account, told in unflinching detail by a man in his 80s remembering the world he saw through 9-year-old eyes."

Shayakhmetov told CA: "I was motivated to write by the desire to tell present and future generations about the past. The bygones of my people—of each citizen, as well as of local archives and my own perception—served as a source for my writing.

"The most surprising thing I have learned as a writer is that it is an exhausting labour, yet I still desire to write."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

BOOKS

Shayakhmetov, Mukhamet, The Silent Steppe: The Story of a Kazakh Nomad under Stalin, edited by Anthony Gardner, translation from Russian by Jan Butler, Stacey International (London, England), 2006.

PERIODICALS

Geographical, November 1, 2006, Victoria James, review of The Silent Steppe, p. 90.

Kirkus Reviews, September 15, 2007, review of The Silent Steppe.

Moscow Times, November 23, 2007, Robert Rosenberg, "Cultural Revolution," review of The Silent Steppe.

Times Literary Supplement (London, England), July 14, 2006, John Ure, review of The Silent Steppe, p. 30.

ONLINE

English PEN Web site,http://www.englishpen.org/ (July 17, 2008), author profile.

Guardian Web log (London, England), http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/ (July 17, 2008), Daniel Kalder, "When Did You Last Read a Central Asian Writer?," review of The Silent Steppe.

Registan.net,http://www.registan.net/ (July 17, 2008), Michael Hancock, review of The Silent Steppe.

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