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Publisher's Summary

From Kazakhstan’s most celebrated author comes his powerful and timely English-language debut about a fisherman’s struggle to save the Aral Sea, and its way of life, from man-made ecological disaster.

Unfolding on the vast grasslands of the steppes of Kazakhstan before its independence from the USSR, this haunting novel limns the struggles of the world through the eyes of Nasyr, a simple fisherman and village elder, and his resolute son, Kakharman. Both father and son confront the terrible future that is coming to the poisoned Aral Sea. 

Once the fourth-largest lake on earth, it is now an impending environmental catastrophe. Starved of water by grand Soviet agricultural schemes, the sea is drying out, and the land around it is turning into a salt desert. The livelihood of the fishermen who live on its shores is collapsing. Vanishing with the water is a whole way of life. Despite overwhelming odds, Kakharman wages a battle against an indifferent bureaucracy, while Nasyr looks to Allah for guidance. Without the support of neighbors, who have lost hope, Kakharman must travail alone to rescue what literally gives them life. Even as the consequences mount, his quixotic fight proves more daunting. Even the sea itself seems to roil with distress. 

In the face of despair, the unwavering convictions of these soulful individuals offer hope. Rollan Seisenbayev takes listeners on a cautionary, elegiac, and deeply compassionate journey into what it means to be human - to care and to fight against devastating odds. May humankind heed his warning cry.

©1991 Rollan Seisenbayev (P)2019 Brilliance Publishing, Inc., all rights reserved. Translation © 2019 by John Farndon.

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Long and difficult, but ultimately worth it

Not always easy to get through--lots of jumps in time, unfamiliar names, and unfamiliar cultures. There's not a lot of "action" and there is a lot of philosophizing about the nature of Allah and Soviet bureaucracy--the two overlords of the people described within these pages. You'll follow an entire community from WWII through the final days of the Soviet Union. There's even some magical realism in the form of giant catfish and mythical sea creatures.

But this epic story of an entire community, slowly destroyed by Soviet policies around the Aral sea, is enraging, heartbreaking, and probably unlike anything else you are likely to read. It's also highly relevant in the time we are living through: the last days of action available to prevent catastrophic climate change. It's hard not to see parallels between the Soviet planners and current climate deniers, working hard to ignore the consequences of their decisions.

While I mostly despise Amazon (yeah, I know who owns Audible) for how they treat people/communities, I do appreciate their work translating and publishing translated works so they can reach a wider audience. I don't imagine this was a big money-maker for them, but I am grateful I was able to read it.