“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

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