The Day Lasts More Than a Hundred Years by Chingiz Aitmatov
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
What a wonderful book. You won't find many novels like this one--a science fiction tale from Soviet Kirghistan that's critical of the Stalin era.
The story follows Burranyi Yedigei as he sets out to bury his friend Kazangap in the traditional cemetery of his people. As they ride across the steppe, Yedigei thinks about their life at an isolated railway junction. Stories of World War Two, romance, family, grumpy camels, traditional legends, and victims are Stalin's purges are all artfully woven together.
It's interesting that Stalin comes under criticism in this book. It was written in 1980 and apparently Stalin had fallen from grace at that point. Writers could now say things that would have gotten them killed when the dictator was alive. Aitmatov was still living in the Soviet Union, however, so he steers clear of any criticism of the overall system other than some poking fun and senseless bureaucracy.
Not far away from the railway junction, a Soviet cosmodrome is on high alert after members of an orbiting space station have reported getting into contact with aliens. This subplot doesn't add much to the book, I'm afraid, and while it does act as a way for the author to say something about human nature, it's already been said far more eloquently in the rest of the book. The book would have been just as good without the science fiction element.
The novel is too strong for this to detract from the whole. It's beautifully told and pulls you into a setting most of us have never seen. Highly recommended. It was the best book I read in 2014.
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