The train went on further.

Agryz, Butrysh, Sarapul…

The children began to die first. One after another, as if they were playing tag, all the unfortunate peasant’s children passed to the other side — first the two babies (together on the same day), then the older ones. His wife followed them, and by that time she could not distinguish the border between that world and this one very clearly. That day, the peasant himself beat his head against the wall of the car — he was trying to split his head open. They carried him away, tied him down, and held him until he calmed down.

Yanaul, Rabak, Turun…

They buried the dead next to the railway in common graves. They dug them themselves with wooden shovels  under the sights of the guards’ rifles. At times, they were not able to finish digging a grave or cover the bodies with rubble — the command would ring out, “All abo-o-oard!” They would leave the bodies lying in the open, hoping that someone on the next train would be kind enough to cover them. They themselves always covered the open graves left by others when they stopped next to them.

Bisert, Chebota, Revda…

Zuleykha Opens Her Eyes, Guzel Yakhina

The train sequence in Zuleykha is devastating  — there’s no other word for it. It’s the early scenes in the taiga where the novel went off track. Later, the chapter “The Black Tent” is where the (to me) unmotivated changes in Zuleykha herself come to a head. I struggled to understand how her choices in that chapter can be explained given who Yakhina makes her out to be earlier — the several hints that this chapter is coming never rang true for me.

Based on Goodreads reviews and blog posts, I’m clearly in the minority on this, and even given my reservations about the book, it was well worth reading. Not of prize-winning quality for me, but good.

Original text:

Покатили дальше.

Агрыз, Бутрыш, Сарапул…

Первыми начали умирать дети. Один за другим, словно играя в салки, убежали на му сторону все дети несчастного крестьянина — сначала оба младенца (разом, в один день), затем старшие. Следом отправилась его жена, к тому времени уже не совсем ясно различавшая границу между тем миром и этим. Сам крестьянин в тот день бился головой о стену вагона — хотел расколоть себе череп. Оттащили, связали, держали, пока не успокоился.

Янаул, Рабак, Турун…

Умерших закапывали вдоль путей, в одной общей яме. Копали сами, деревянными лопатами, под прицелом конвойных винтовок. Бывало, вырыть могилы или прикрыть трупы щебнем не успевали — гремела команда «По вагона-а-ам!». Оставляли тела лежать открыто — надеялись, что в следующем эшелоне найдутся добрые люди, присыплют. Сами, когда стояли у таких открытых могил, всегда присыпали.

Бисерт, Чебота, Ревда…

«Зулейха открывает глаза», Гузель Яхина

“Zuleykha Valiyeva!”

“That’s me.”

She had never said “I” or “me” so many times in her entire life as she did in that first month of imprisonment. Modesty is beautiful — it was not fitting for a decent woman to talk about herself without reason. The Tatar language even worked in such a way that you could live your entire life and never once say “I”: past, present, or future, the verb could be fitted into the necessary form, the ending of the word would change, making the use of that vain little word superfluous. It was not like that in Russian; there everyone was constantly trying to stick in “I” and “me” and then “I” again…

Zuleykha Opens Her Eyes, Guzel Yakhina

I’ve finished Zuleykha and have one more translation post after this one to share from the book. Yakhina is a talented writer, and the first half of the book was incredible. Unfortunately, the ending didn’t live up to the expectations set by the beginning or the lineup of awards the book has run. Ultimately, Zuleykha is too inconsistent a character, and the novel becomes too plot driven and procedural. Yakhina tries to grow Zuleykha out of the painful modesty illustrated in this passage, but does so in jarring ways that don’t seem to fit the earlier development of the character.

Still worth reading, however, for the beautiful writing and the strength of the first half.

Original text:

— Зулейха Валиева!

— Я.

За всю жизнь она не произнесла столько раз «я», как за месяц в тюрьме. Скромность украшает — не пристало порядочной женщине якать без повода. Даже язык татарский устроен так, что можно всю жизнь прожить — и ни разу не сказать «я»: в каком бы времени ты ни говорил о себе, глагол встанет в нужную форму, изменит окончание, сделав излишним использование этого маленького тщеславного слова. В русском  — не так, здесь каждый только и норовит вставить: «я» да «мне», да снова «я»…

«Зулейха открывает глаза», Гузель Яхина