Reading Adventure Review: April (Northern/Central Asia)

As a young reporter in Uzbekistan, Bagila Bukharbayeva was a witness to her countrys search for an identity after the collapse of the Soviet Union. While self-proclaimed religious leaders argued about what was the true Islam, Bukharbayeva shows how some of the neighborhood boys became religious, then devout, and then a threat to the country’s authoritarian government. The Vanishing Generation provides an unparalleled look into what life is like in a religious sect, the experience of people who live for months and even years in hiding, and the fabricated evidence, torture, and kidnappings that characterize an authoritarian government. In doing so, she provides a rare and unforgettable story of what life is like today inside the secretive and tightly controlled country of Uzbekistan. Balancing intimate memories of playmates and neighborhood crushes with harrowing stories of extremism and authoritarianism, Bukharbayeva gives a voice to victims whose stories would never otherwise be heard.

We’re a little late this month, but let’s not let ‘perfect’ be the enemy of ‘good’ in this reading adventure! April’s book was The Vanishing Generation: Faith and Uprising in Modern Uzbekistan by Bagila Bukharbayeva. Not as heavy as March’s book, but still… heavy.

Bukharbayeva is a journalist born in Uzbekistan who was able to tell her story in English for a wider audience. In this book, Bukharbayeva memorialises the cruelties against the country’s pious Muslims over the quarter-century rule of President Islam Karimov, who died in 2016. It opens in media res, introducing a beloved neighbour of Bukharbayeva’s, whose family had been decimated by the regime. Then she pulls us back to the past to show how young muslim men would travel overseas to learn more about the religion, only to return and set up mosques in the cities where they were born and raised. Then they started to go missing.

And then the 1999 bombings happened. The government blamed the imams and built a new prison in the deserts of Karakalpakstan – Zhaslyk – with living conditions that Bukharbayeva empathetically and mercilessly describes to her audience. She also describes the Andijan massacre (she was one of a handful of journalists there)

There’s no doubt that there is a shade of radicalisation to the way that Bukharbayeva depicts young men travelling to Yemen and returning in beards and white robes. One of her childhood neighbours, Usmon, recognises it for what it is and says as much in his interview with her. But the horrors she describes, from the massacre she barely survived to the way that the Muslim prisoners are treated when she visits Zhaslyk, makes it clear that this book is not about what happens when a communist country begins to turn towards religion. It’s about what happens when religion – any religion – is met with violent suppression by a government driven by fear of what it can’t control.

Again, this is a heavy book. Two heavy books in a row; I need to try and flush out some translated comedies or this Round the World Adventure is going to get very dark!

Next month is South Asia, and I’ll be reading The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad by Twinkle Khanna

PS – I love writing and I love eating! If you want to help with the latter (and ONLY if you want) you can maybe buy me a coffee?  🙂

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