The Blue Sky By Galsan Tschinag


In the Altai Mountains of northern Mongolia, the nomadic Tuvan people’s ancient way of life is colliding with the pervasive influence of modernity. For the young shepherd boy Dshurukuwaa, the confrontation comes in stages. First his older siblings leave the family yurt to attend a distant boarding school, followed by the death of his beloved grandmother and with it, the connection to the tribe’s traditions and deep relationship to the land. But the greatest tragedy strikes when his dog — “all that was left to me” — dies after ingesting poison set out by the boy’s father to protect the herd from wolves. His despairing questions to the Heavenly Blue Sky are answered only by the silence of the wind.

The first and only member of the Tuvans to use written language to tell stories, Galsan Tschinag chronicles their traditions in this fascinating, bittersweet novel. The Blue Sky

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I started reading this book expecting a light story for children and by the end of it I am impressed beyond measure. The Blue Sky seems slow but is a very powerful and colorful story, nomadic life is so beautifully portrayed here. Galsan Tschinag is a person you want to meet in your lifetime as he is a living treasure, who, as he puts it, went from a hunter-gatherer to a professor. Who else has done that? 9781571310552 This book is written from the point of view of someone very young (just how young I cannot say, but under eight years old) and it's fairly short, which might lead a person to conclude it's a children's book. But it's not the kind of book children would enjoy. It has no plot to speak of; the narrative simply drifts along. Yet, if you don't mind that sort of thing, there is much here to enjoy. The descriptions are spot-on, and I learned a great deal about the life and culture of the nomadic herders in Mongolia. I knew Mongolia was a very poor country, but I was still slightly shocked over how little the narrator and his family had, when they were considered to be a wealthy family.

It says in the back that this book is part of a trilogy. The next book covers the protagonist's later childhood and the third, his adolescence and entry into adulthood. I think the other two books would be worth a read. 9781571310552 This is by far THE most lyrically moving book I've read this year. The coming of age story of a young boy growing up in a nomadic tribe in the harsh Mongolian steppe; under the looming shadow of communist Russia. His world is as different as it can get from mine; yet I could so well identify with his sentiments! One of those books that make you feel - Yes! I used to feel like that when I was a child how did the author know? It's sheer genius to remember so vividly what it's like to be growing up.
Even though book has been translated from German, amazing work both by author and translator that so much magic has been retained.
Appropriate equally for any book-loving child of 10+; am passing on to my daughter now. 9781571310552 3.5 stars

This is an interesting, evocatively-written short book about the life of a young shepherd boy belonging to a nomadic people in Mongolia. Set in the 1940s, the book is based on the author’s own life – the boy has his name, and in the author’s note (which puts the book in context) he refers to the character as himself; reading this alongside a memoir with numerous fictionalized elements highlighted the existence of that grey intermediate zone between fiction and nonfiction. The author – who grew up in a yurt, was educated in Europe, then returned to Mongolia and became a tribal leader and shaman – has certainly had a fascinating life, though this book focuses on the narrow world of a child, consisting of his family, the sheep and his dog. The boy faces a number of losses in his young life that leave him questioning the divinity of the sky, which his people worship.

It’s an interesting book, and while there’s no overarching plot, its relatively short length and the variety of its episodes carry it along fine. The translation is fluid and readable, and the glossary, author’s note and translator’s note at the end are all helpful. The book didn’t strike any deep chord with me, but it did expand my mental map a little bit further, which is exactly what my world books challenge is intended to do. The author himself discusses this in the afterword:

“Humankind, which for me in the beginning meant my small tribe of Tuvan people, has grown larger and richer in my heart with the addition of other peoples. Now, the publication of The Blue Sky extends it for me even further by including the peoples of North America. I am mightily pleased, not least for these peoples themselves, whose world, in turn, will now include the mountain steppe of Central Asia, and whose awareness of humankind will embrace the nomadic people from that corner.”

Indeed. 9781571310552

Grandma was human silk. That's what father said, and what he said was always right. Always. And she has been sent to me by the sky. That's what mother had revealed to me. Some of the things she said weren't true of course, but when the sky was involved, we were not allow to lie. Mother has said so herself and even Grandma had listened.

Recensione originale:

Galsan Tschinag è il nome mongolo di Irgit Shynykbai-oglu Dshurukuwaa, scrittore mongolo di etnia tuvana che scrive però in tedesco. Tschinag ha studiato nell'ex DDR ed è poi tornato in Mongolia a insegnare tedesco all'università di Ulan Bator. Immagino che abbia deciso di scrivere in tedesco per avere un maggiore accesso a un pubblico internazionale.

Tuva è una repubblica russa confinante con la Mongolia, ma alcune migliaia di tuvani vivono anche in Mongolia. La loro lingua è il tuvano, una lingua di ceppo turco, e sono noti per il canto tradizionale difonico, il Khoomei.

Questo libro, pubblicato in italiano da AER con la traduzione di Italo Mauro e con il titolo Il cielo azzurro, è la prima parte di una trilogia che compone l'autobiografia romanzata dell'autore. La casa editrice tedesca lo presenta in realtà come Roman, romanzo, e non avrei saputo che si trattava di un'autobiografia se non fosse stato per il commento di un'amica che ha letto l'edizione inglese, dove c'è una nota dell'autore.

Il libro è narrato da un bambino molto piccolo, non sappiamo quanti anni abbia di preciso ma di sicuro non è ancora in età scolare. Il piccolo parla di una vita dura in mezzo alle montagne dell'Altai, dove i suoi genitori sono pastori nomadi che vivono in una iurta. Il bambino deve aiutare con il gregge fin da piccolo, . Oltre che con i genitori, il fratello e la sorella (entrambi poco più grandi di lui), il piccolo Dshurukuwaa vive con la nonna e con il cane Arsylang, entrambi amatissimi.

Dal libro traspare l'amore fortissimo per la nonna (pur non essendo davvero la nonna biologica) e per Arsylang ed entrambi hanno un capitolo dedicato a loro. Traspare inoltre il paesaggio aspro ma bellissimo dell'Altai, la vita dura dei pastori nomadi e parzialmente anche la vita sotto il comunismo, quando il rappresentante del sumun viene a prendere i fratelli del narratore per mandarli a scuola.

Viene voglia dunque di sapere come siano proseguite le cose per Dshurukuwaa/Galsan e come da qui sia arrivato a diventare scrittore e sciamano. Magari un giorno mi procurerò gli altri due volumi dell'autobiografia e tornerò a farvi sapere le mie impressioni. 9781571310552 An autobiographical novel set in Mongolia in the late 1940s/early 1950s, and told through the eyes of the author as a small child growing up within a family of steppe herdsmen. It’s the first in a trilogy but as far as I can tell, only the first two parts have been translated into English.

Although born in Mongolia, the author is a member of the Tuva ethnic group. Most Tuvans seem to live within the Russian Federation, with only a few thousand on the Mongolian side of the border. He wrote this trilogy in German, which initially surprised me, but I read on his GR author page that in the 1960s he attended university in Leipzig in the former GDR. I suppose if your first language is Tuvan but you have the ability to write in German, then doing so will provide access to a far wider international audience. The name “Galsan Tschinag” is apparently a Mongolian language version of his Tuvan name, Irgit Shynykbai-oglu Dshurukuwaa. In the novel, his older siblings address him as “Dshurukuwaa”, from which I surmise that Tuvan is one of those languages where the family name comes before the given name.

This is a short book but a decent read. There’s no “plot” as such, the author simply relates the major events of his childhood. In that sense it’s an ordinary family tale, except of course that, to a 21st century westerner, life as a 1940s steppe nomad is anything but ordinary. I’m partial to novels that convey a strong sense of place, and you definitely get that here.

Although the novel is evocative it isn’t sentimental. Life is harsh for the author’s family. At the time Mongolia was a Soviet satellite, and as the author grows a little older he starts to see the impact that the country’s communist government is having on his family’s age old way of life. His father’s name was Shynykbai, also part of the author’s own, and the inherited suffix bai indicated a family formerly of wealth and status. Such ancestry was extremely dangerous and if the author’s parents argued with neighbours the insult of “kulak” would be thrown at them. To be identified as such was potentially fatal. I think though, that the author does a good job in conveying the lack of understanding of a small child.

I don’t think the book could be described as great literature, but it’s very readable, and the events of the last third are told in dramatic fashion. I’ll probably read the second book at some point.

There are a lot of Tuvan words used, and most readers will need to refer to the glossary at the end – I certainly did. There’s also an endnote from the author, where he gives an overview of his remarkable life – that’s also worth reading. 9781571310552 This book gets three stars because:
1. It talks about a way of life that's under threat but avoids the emotional manipulation that I dread in expat authors writing about home.
2. The boy narrator is just a boy and not a precocious mouthpiece for an adult. (Cough… cough… JonathanSafranFoer…)
3. It taught me about a part of the world that I know very little about.

Not a rocked-my-world read. But definitely a made-my-world-bigger read. 9781571310552 Amended in light of additional information(**)

Der Blaue Himmel , written in German(*) by the Tuvan shaman, poet and novelist Galsan Tschinag (known as Irgit Shynykbai-oglu Dshurukuwaa when he is home - b. 1944) is the largely autobiographical story of a young Tuvan boy, Dshurukuwaa, in the early 1950's living in the bosom of his extended family in the ancient manner of his nomadic people, moving across the monstrously wide steppes of Mongolia and southern Siberia and the mountain valleys of the Altai as their herds of sheep, goats, yaks, and horses graze, living almost exclusively on their milk, blood, flesh, bones and hides (for there is little else to be found on the steppe except for grass, marmots, foxes, wolves and the occasional bird or bear), and carrying their dismantled homes (yurts) with them. Their ancestors surely fought for Genghis Khan and inspired horror in the peoples they destroyed; but for ages their only ambition has been to live their lives in the old way, to wed, have children and increase their herds. In this book we learn about this old way of life from the inside. Two other things we learn from this book: (1) human beings are remarkably adaptable and (2) despite cultural differences, human beings are much the same everywhere, for the better and for the worse. Even if one thinks one already knows these things, there is still gain in seeing these play themselves out in the absolutely concrete setting of a culture distant to our own.

In relatively straightforward but evocative language, Tschinag summons the simple but hard life of the Tuvan nomads, the harsh beauty of the steppes and mountains, and the extremely tight family bonds of his people.

The Communist Party controlled Mongolia and had already begun to improve the lives of the inhabitants, so the nomads were beginning to change their ways. Dshurukuwaa's older brother and sister were obliged to leave the camp to go to school in the local village, and some of his extended family chose to move there, as well. Dshurukuwaa, too young for school, took over his siblings' chores. His nomadic life continued, but, in quick succession, his beloved grandmother died, a bitter winter killed most of his flock, and his inseparable dog was accidentally poisoned. The book ends with him screaming imprecations at the most powerful being in the Tuvans' religion, the Blue Sky.

Der Blaue Himmel is the first volume of a trilogy, and the story of Dshurukuwaa's youth is continued in Die graue Erde and then Der weiße Berg . After setting up the Tuvan culture and Dshurukuwaa's rejection of Father Sky, the trilogy continues with Dshurukuwaa personally experiencing how the communist authority was trying to stamp out his culture. Stay tuned...

(*) Tschinag studied German at the Karl Marx University in Leipzig (1962-1968) and chose to write his books in German when looking for a Western audience. He also writes books in Mongolian in order to reach out to the Kazakh and Mongolian majority in his own country in defense of the minority Tuva people, known in the West for their remarkable throat singing:

My throat hurts just listening to it.

(**) Tschinag's books appear to be the only sources of insight in a Western language into Tuvan culture and history as presented from a native member of that society. Tschinag is not only a shaman, he is the leader of the Tuva people in Mongolia, whose numbers are said to be around 4,000. However, there are some 200,000 Tuvan speakers in an adjacent portion of the Russian Federation called the Republic of Tuva (renamed the Tyva Republic fairly recently), where they form the majority. I thought I had perceived some parallels between the Tuvan/Mongolian and the Tibetan/Chinese situations, but the existence of a larger group of Tuvan neighbors weakens that parallel. However, the Mongolians did deliberately try to suppress the Tuvan culture in Mongolia (as did the Soviet Union in the region now called the Tyva Republic; however, now the Tuvan language is freely spoken again, and Tibetan Buddhism and Shamanism are beginning to recover in the Tyva Republic). “Galsan Tschinag” is a Mongolian pseudonym the boy was required to adopt in order to attend Mongolian schools, because the Mongolian government forbade the Tuvan speech. 9781571310552 A fictionalized account of the author's childhood in the transitional period where the Tuvan people started being regulated by Mongolian governments (taxing for wool and forcing children to go to school.) It was interesting to read about the nomadic patterns, community units, sensory communication (using smell in particular!) and living in extreme conditions. There are hints of the author's future as a shaman by the end of the book, and apparently this is the first book of a longer series. 9781571310552