Jamilia’s husband is off fighting at the front. She spends her days hauling sacks of grain from the threshing floor to the train station in their small village in the Caucasus, accompanied by Seit, her young brother-in-law, and Daniyar, a sullen newcomer to the village who has been wounded on the battlefield.
Seit observes the beautiful, spirited Jamilia spurn men’s advances, and wince at the dispassionate letters she receives from her husband. Meanwhile, undeterred by Jamilia’s teasing, Daniyar sings as they return each evening from the fields.
Soon Jamilia is in love, and she and Daniyar elope just as her husband returns.
Jamilia by Chingiz Aïtmatov has been sitting on a little table by the entrance of my local Waterstones, for the last few weeks after Soviet author Chingiz Aitmatov’s book was selected as Waterstones’ Book of the Month for August.
It’s a very slim book at just over 90 pages, and with its beautiful cover (which seems to be a ‘thing’ with Telegram Books covers.) It’s been tempting me every time I’ve walked past it. Last weekend I succumbed and bought it. And read it over the next couple of days.
Published originally in Russian in 1958 and set in Kyrgyzstan and the collective farming culture prevalent around the time of the Second World War. This version was translated by James Riordan.
Aïtmatov, with a sparse prose manages to paint a vivid and evocative picture of the working life and surroundings for his characters, and weaves a truly lovely story, that was a joy read.
I don’t think, though, that it is, as Louis Aragon claims on the front cover, “The most beautiful love story in the world”, yes it’s a sweet romance, but we really don’t get to meet the characters for long enough, nor see enough of the romance between Jamilia and Daniyar for that to be the case, but as a love story about the young artist’s Siet’s love for his country, his sister-in-law and Daniyer, then yes the book really works.
In fact the book is much more about Seit’s journey than Jamilia and Daniyar’s. And for that journey alone this novella is more than worth it.
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