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Tuvan Writer Presents his New Book in America

Blue Sky by Galsan Tschinag Today within author events held on Sundays at Elliot Bay Tuvan writer Galsan Tschinag (born in Mongolia) will present his new book 'Blue Sky' to American audience. Here is an introduction to it from the part of the Elliott Bay Book Company: "We have had many translated programs before, but never one where the writer's native tongue is Tuvan and the language most translated here will be from the German to English, as his writing language is German. Galsan Tschinag, known in his native Tuvan as Irgit Schynykbajoglu Dshueukuwaa, is a Tuvan chief, a singer, storyteller, poet, and novelist—the author of over thirty books. A resident of both Europe and the Altai Mountains and Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia, he makes this welcome first visit here on behalf of his first U.S. publication. The Blue Sky (Milkweed, translated from the German by Katharina Rout) is a novel, a story rooted in the pastoral ways of the Tuvan people, their work, their dream stories, their visions. "The hero may be a simple shepherd boy, but his tale is nothing short of epic. With this novel, a Mongolian shaman has stepped onto the stage of world literature." - Der Spiegel. "Tschinag describes the strenuous days spent between the herd of sheep and the yurt with both affection and precision, and evokes the stunning landscape in a particularly memorable way, all of it contributing to the unlikely sense one has as a reader that we are remembering our own childhood." - Die Welt".

Los Angeles Times gives a fuller account of Tschinag's life and creative activity in An awesome story of survival — of a child, and of a people by Susan Salter Reynolds: The story that lies behind Galsan Tschinag's "The Blue Sky" (Milkweed, 209 pp., $22) is as thrilling as the novel itself.

Tschinag was born in the early 1940s in the High Altai of western Mongolia. His family is Tuvan, from a region approximately the size of North Dakota that lies between Mongolia and Siberia. The Tuvans are recently, and increasingly, famous for throat singing, and many of them have toured in the United States and throughout Europe.

In 1924, Mongolia became a communist country; the nomadic Tuvans were relocated from the Altai Mountains, their ancestral home, to enclaves in central Mongolia, and their language was suppressed.

Galsan Tschinag (Irgit Shynykbai-oglu Dshurukuwaa, in Tuvan) studied in East Germany in the 1960s and began writing stories, poems and songs in German celebrating the Tuvan lifestyle and Tuvan history.

In 1995, with money he had earned from the sale of his books, he led a caravan of Tuvan families, on camel and horseback, with sheep and dogs, chickens and yurts, 1,240 miles across steppes and mountain ranges, back into the Altai Mountains. With Tschinag (who became a Lamaist Buddhist and a shaman) as their leader, these Tuvans have returned to their nomadic, sheepherding lifestyle.

"The Blue Sky" is the first installment of Tschinag's three-part autobiographical novel — and the only part so far to have been translated into English. It covers the author's Mongolian childhood. The second part, "Die graue Erde" ("The Gray Earth"), covers his incipient shamanism and his education in a totalitarian, communist school system, in which shamanism was outlawed. The last book in the trilogy, "Der weisse Berg" ("The White Mountain"), "traces the unavoidable mental breakdown of the adolescent forced to lead a double life," writes the author, in an afterword to "The Blue Sky."

In the translator's note (which is also found at the end of the book), Katharina Rout describes her visit in 2004 to Tschinag's home in the Altai Mountains, a range the Mongolians call "the roof of the world": "The air smelled of sage, and before us lay an awe-inspiring ocean of greenish-blue velvety mountain backs, broad valleys left behind by glaciers, and snow-covered peaks in the distance."

Much of this landscape is richly described in "The Blue Sky." Tschinag makes it easy for his readers to fall into the beautiful rhythms of the Tuvans' daily life. As a child, he spent his days with his grandmother, who was, he writes, "human silk" and was "sent to me by the sky." She gives him her herd of 21 sheep, which he tends with his beloved dog, Arsylang.

His life, like that of his family, is intimately tied to the lives of the animals. The Tuvans drink the sheep's milk; they eat cheese and butter and meat from their animals. At the end of each day, they wash their hands in juniper water. They sniff each other's foreheads in greeting.

"The Blue Sky" is written with an adult's longing for the past. The child Galsan is faced with change when his brother and sister are forced to go away to school in a nearby town. His grandmother dies. His parents must contend with a terribly harsh winter, in which they lose much of their flock — and finally, his dog eats poison that his father had set out for wild game.

The child, who has already formed his own religion and created his own prayers, renounces his heavenly father, Father Sky: "I have called you by your name and have dared the ultimate," he cries. If Father Sky's help does not arrive in time to save his dog, the boy warns, "I will no longer be yours." It is on this heartbreaking rite of prayer and passage that the first book of Tschinag's trilogy ends.

Tschinag has spent his long life variously in indigenous, feudal and communist societies. "Today," he tells us, "I move about the country on horseback, by car, or by plane ... with my shaman's whisk, a truncheon, or a laptop." Although it pleases the author to think that this translation will bring the steppes of Central Asia to the people of North America, it is the survival of his people that motivates his writing: "The art of survival is strong among nomads, some primordial serenity hovers above everything."l

Dina Oyun
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