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Andrei Volos

HURRAMABAD

A Novel in Facets

ISBN 5-7172-0056-0, 240 pages

Translated by Arch Tait

"One of the best books to come out of Russia in the last decade..."
Neue Zuricher Zeitung

The 1998 winner of the Anti-Booker Prize and the 2001 winner of the State Prize for Literature, Hurramabad describes the bloody national strife and the eviction of Russians from Tajikistan following the collapse of the Soviet Union. The title is the name of the mythical city of joy and happiness where there is always plenty of fresh water and shade. When civil war erupts in Tajikistan, many Russians are reluctant to leave at first. But normal life gradually vanishes, replaced by atrocity and death. This shifting world is the setting of Volos's powerful novel. He masterfully creates vivid pictures from street scenes, snatches of conversations at the bazaar, comments by wise old men and life stories of simple people, Russians and Tajiks alike.

"Where is Tajikistan? Is it far away? Not at all. Volos writes so visually of this former Soviet republic as if it were around the corner." — Tages Anzeiger

"Volos narrows the perspective of his narrative to the emotional experience of a few eye-witnesses and so creates an extraordinarily vivid and multifaceted atmosphere. This is the city of Hurramabad shimmering in the heat, the hurly-burly of the bazaars, in little side streets and in the habitations of Tajik shepherds. The growing suspense of Hurramabad will be felt even by readers who have not a slightest interest in this Central Asian country." — Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

"Andrei Volos continues the tradition of stern realism in Russian literature, with his economical but expressive language, his sharp psychological insights, and his gorgeous descriptions of nature and national traditions." — Ex Libris

"The focused chaos in Hurramabad reveals a quantity of open wounds which will never heal." — Berliner Zeitung

Hurramabad, a Novel in Facets consists of thirteen novellas of which we publishing seven in this book. They describe the bloody national strife and the eviction of Russians from Tajikistan following the collapse of the USSR. Hurramabad, for which the Tajik capital Dushanbe served as a prototype, is a mythical city of joy and happiness where there is always an abundance of fresh water and shade. The novel starts with an old Russian woman reminiscing about the past, as she climbs the hill to the cemetery where her husband is buried. He was a Red Commissar who came to Tajikistan in the twenties as a representative of the new rule, which ended in the nineties.
Following the collapse of the USSR, civil war erupted, turning the Russians into foreigners who had no option but to leave. Initially many were reluctant to go: Tajikistan was home, their dead were buried there, the place was dear to them; but gradually they saw normal life vanish to be replaced by atrocity and death. It is this shifting world that Volos writes about.
We witness the civil war with its insane destruction and angry mobs, ethnic hatred and bloody vengeance; there is a ruthless fight for power and violent demonstrations instigated by crafty politicians; there is no more work for Russians and wages and pensions go unpaid. These events are shown in the context of people's lives, more vividly than is possible in journalists' reports.
A Russian engineer falls in love with Tajik culture. He gives up his comfortable life in Moscow to settle in Dushanbe where he takes a menial job at the bazaar, marries a Tajik woman, learns the language and adopts the local customs. Outwardly he becomes more and more like a Tajik, but when he wants to join the volunteer troops he is still rejected as a foreigner. His final acceptance comes only at a terrible price.
Five Russian journalists have been taken hostage by a particularly ferocious Tajik warlord who wants to trade them for a right of passage through territory held by government troops. Several years of brutal civil war have turned these fighters into unfeeling war machines. The journalists discuss the situation in terms which show that they have little understanding of the situation, or of their predicament.
Volos creates vivid pictures from street scenes and snatches of conversation at the bazaar, comments by wise old men and life stories of simple people, Russian and Tajik alike. He creatively continues the tradition of austere realism in Russian literature. His prose has been praised for its economical but expressive language, especially in the dialogues, for its sharp psychological insights and evocative descriptions of nature and national traditions.

Volos was born in Dushanbe in 1955, leaving it after high school to enter the Oil and Gas Institute in Moscow. He graduated as a geophysicist and for more than ten years worked at a research centre in Moscow, also travelling the width and breadth of Central Asia. His family had lived in Dushanbe since the 1920s when Russia established Soviet rule there, suppressing the nationalist Basmatch movement. In the 1990s they had to leave Dushanbe as life there became unbearable for "aliens" and Volos's father died of a heart attack.