Galsan Tschinag The Gray Earth

ISBN 13: 9781571310651

The Gray Earth

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9781571310651: The Gray Earth
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This powerful, sweeping novel continues the saga of Dshurukawaa, the Tuvan shepherd boy introduced in The Blue Sky. Torn between the onset of visions and pressure from his family to attend a state boarding school, the adolescent attempts to mediate the pull of spirituality and pragmatism, old ways and new. Taken from his ancestral home, he reunites with his siblings at a boarding school, where his brother also serves as principal. Soon he comes to understand that the main purpose of the school is to strip the Tuvans of their language and traditions, and to make them conform to party ideals. When tragedy strikes, Dshurukawaa begins to sense the larger import of his visions, and with it a possible escape. Tschinag's lyrical language, his striking characterizations, and his evocation of a singular way of life make The Gray Earth an unforgettable read and a worthy follow-up to The Blue Sky.

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About the Author:

Galsan Tschinag, whose name in his native Tuvan language is Irgit Schynykbaj-oglu Dshurukuwaa, was born in the early forties in Mongolia. From 1962 until 1966 he studied at the University of Leipzig, where he adopted German as his written language. Under an oppressive communist regime he became a singer, storyteller, and poet in the ancient Tuvan tradition. As a chief of Tuvans in Mongolia, Tschinag led his people, scattered under Communist rule, back in a caravan to their original home in the high Altai Mountains. Tschinag is the author of more than a dozen books, and his work has been translated into many languages. He lives alternately in the Altai, Ulaanbaatar, and Europe.

Katharina Rout teaches English and comparative literature at Vancouver Island University in Nanaimo, British Columbia. Her translations of contemporary German literature have been acclaimed widely.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

THE SPIRIT

At my feet lies a miserable, mute, and fearful sky. It must submit to my battered brass ladle each time my ladle dips into the clouds. Then the sky shivers and shudders and the clouds blur. Sitting above the sky, I shamanize and fondly consider the sheep whose fleece I am plucking.

With each scoop from the river the verse also rises, answering my need. The water streams into the aspen-wood pail with a bright streak and a dark rumble and then, once the pail has filled up, sparkles and splashes over its brim.

Meanwhile the verse sinks softly and quietly onto my tongue, and word after word rolls into my throat where it turns into song. I keep the bright, fluttering melody from the prickling, almost piercing splashes of the gushing water and draw out and savor each line’s last syllable.

How fortunate that I have bush standing behind me firm and thick to hide me from other people’s eyes and ears. Here I can shamanize as long and loudly as I like, and dally as much with the spirits as my desire and courage allow.

I am determined to become a shaman, even though my parents are against it. They say I lack the roots. There has never been a shaman in our family; the one shaman we have a woman named Pürwü is only related to us through marriage. When they hear me shamanize, they get angry with me. But Pürwü has given me permission to follow her example. She said so in our own yurt, in front of Father and Mother and a handful of other people.

This was years ago. Brother and Sister were still at home, my dog Arsylang was still alive, and Grandma was still on this earth, close enough for us to see and touch her. I had been sick and bedridden for days, and so the shaman had to come. As she was shamanizing, and slapping me with her shawyd, the colorful whisk made from strips of fabric, I suddenly so I am told reached up and snatched the shawyd from her hand. And that was not all. Apparently I also jumped up and raced around the stove, whipping myself with her shawyd and singing about a white sheep that alone would save me.

At first they tried to catch me and quickly tuck me in again, but I fought ferociously and insisted that a sheep be consecrated on the spot if I were to be kept alive. The shaman, who had lost her place in the chant, stood confused and then decided to do as I wished. So the sheep I had demanded was brought and consecrated. I cannot actually remember any of it. Only dark, shadowy shreds of memory have stayed with me I must have been delirious with fever.

Soon afterward I recovered completely. But for a long time the strange behavior of the child I was remained a topic of conversation. The farther word of it traveled through time and space, the more impressive and lavish the story became. And when I told my story to other children, I embellished it with even more details, making it even more beautiful and significant. I can’t say whether this was the reason, but I sensed that everyone knew and admired me.

He is Ish-Maani’s youngest,” strangers said when they referred to me, and the respect they had for this particular youngest child could be heard in their voices. Ish-Maani, Oh-You-Poor-Soul,” is my kind and empathetic father’s nickname.

All of this led me to butt in a second time when one day Aunt Pürwü was shamanizing again. But this time I knew what I was doing. Without any warning I jumped up, tore the scarf from the head of the next best person within my reach, and, screeching and waving the scarf, followed the shaman. Cooing and snorting and stomping and waving wildly about, she stepped out the door to tackle something invisible in the darkness of the steppe. In the flickering light of the dung fire the faces around me looked rigid with fear, which gave me a prickling satisfaction. A man’s voice hissed through clenched teeth, Hey, come back, you bad boy!” But by then I was almost through the door and obviously in no mind to turn back. Instead, I was surprised the stranger would not know who I was. He made me smile. But then I put on a serious face, stepped forth, and, drawing on everything I had, supported the shaman in her struggle to drive away the evil spirit I believed to be hidden in front of me in the dark.

Later, when I had returned into the yurt under the shaman’s wings, I heard the same reproachful voice brazenly raised against my parents: You’re not the only people with a youngest child.”

Another voice agreed: Yes, this has gone too far. Who knows where it will lead.” I recognized the voice; it was Tuudaj. Tuudaj always showed up when we butchered a large animal. That it was her, of all people, annoyed me somewhat, and I asked myself what I would do the next time she popped up at the edge of our ail with that greasy, shiny goatskin bag under her left arm. Would I run toward her as fast as before to restrain our dog? But then the shaman interrupted her chant and said, Let him be. He has his reasons, or else he wouldn’t do it.”

I was grateful to her, but I had lost the courage to carry on and instead crouched and hid behind everyone at the back, while a heavy silence weighed upon them.

The following night wolves attacked our ail’s flock. We soon lost sight of the animals the wolves had chased away. But somehow we managed to stay connected with the victims until dawn, firing shots in their direction, banging pails and basins with sticks, and calling out after the sheep and goats, pausing only to listen. The animals knew each of these sounds was meant for them, and baaed and bleated in reply.

At dawn, we saddled the horses and loaded the dung baskets to bring back the dead and the wounded. More than a dozen animals had been killed there were whole piles of remains. The dogs howled for several days and nights, their helpless cries born from shame and rage.

Every misfortune demands a culprit. This time, the verdict fell on me. Had it come from only one side, I probably would have tried to defend myself. I could have said the attack was part of life and our ail, having been spared for so long, was due.

But too many people, everyone really, went to battle against me. Even Mother did. She accused me of a brazenness not even a madman would allow himself, and she claimed that with my twitching and screeching I had scorched her face for all the world to see. Father agreed with her: with my performance I had done worse than bring shame to the family I had enraged the sky. The bundle the sky had given me at birth simply did not include shamanizing. Their voices were cold and hard, as if I were no longer their baby child. Other people came and behaved as if demanding damages from Father and Mother since I, their child, had awakened the evil spirits and lured them close with my insolence. Soon my defiance collapsed. I remembered whom I had named in my verses:

Ary börü, asa gooshu . . .
Greedy wolves, ghostly devils . . .

Of course I had tried to drive them away instead of luring them close. But the fact remained that I had called their names. And maybe they had heard their names, rushed toward us, and slipped past me. I had been insolent and, unfortunately, blind as well.

I shrank down to the size of a tick and waited in agony for someone to hurl the fateful line from my verse at my head like a rock. Fortunately, no one did. But things were bad enough already. There was no way of knowing when if ever the flock would recover from the loss. For the longest time I could not shake my remorse and melancholy. Time after time I swore to myself never again to shamanize.

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