CC Spin #31: The Gray Earth

 The Gray Earth, by Galsan Tschinag

I finished my 31st Spin title!  This poor book has been waiting around for a while.  It's the second book in an autobiographical trilogy (though considered novels, so somewhat fictionalized) which was written in German.  I read The Blue Sky a few years ago, and am quite upset that the third book, The White Mountain, never actually got published in English.  That was supposed to happen in 2018.

Galsan Tschinag is Mongolian, of the Tuvan culture, which was ravaged by Soviet dictates.  In this trilogy, he tells the story of his life; the first volume was his early childhood on the steppes, and now he is 8 years old and taken to a Soviet boarding school.  Instead of his childhood name of Dshurukuwaa, he is now known as Galdan.

Galdan's oldest brother is the principal of the school and his other sister and brother already live there, so he is fortunate in that he has family there, but he's also under pressure not to embarrass his brother, and he's completely bewildered by this new environment.  At home, he's been the baby, and he has cherished ambitions to be a shaman.  At school, he's expected to be disciplined and obedient, and any hint of religious beliefs is not just shameful, but dangerous.  He must learn Mongolian, since his own Tuvan language is not written down and is considered primitive -- and Mongolian is still 'backwards,' with everything Russian being the true mark of civilization and progress.

As a student, Galdan has happy experiences of friendship and family closeness, as well as the difficulties of getting used to school and the Soviet double-speak employed by some teachers and administrators.  One, the most enthusiastic Soviet, forces the entire school to engage in anti-religious activities such as cutting down sacred trees for no particular reason,  He has a grand plan for the school to store its own vegetable food and there is a massive digging project for a sort of root cellar, but these are people who do not dig cellars and the whole thing ends in disaster.  Galdan's brother, the principal, is marked to be the scapegoat.

This is an excellent novel, just so well-written.  It beautifully portrays the meaning of steppe life even as the Soviet system is creeping in to destroy it, and the menace becomes palpable as young Galdan senses it without understanding it.

I sure wish I could read the third book...


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