This book features people from one of the most closed countries of today’s world, where the passage of time resembles the passage of a caravan through the waterless desert. This world has been recreated by a true-born son of that mysterious country, a Turkmen who, at the will of fate, has now been living for a quarter of a century in snowy Scandinavia. Is that not why two different worlds come together in “Ryazan Horseradish and Tula Gingerbread”, to come apart in “Love in Lilac”, in which a student from the non-free world falls in love with a girl from the West?
In the story “Death of the Snake Catcher”, an old snake catcher meets one on one with a giant cobra in the heart of the desert. In the dialogue between them the author unveils the age-old interdependence of Man and untamed nature, where the fear and mistrust of the strong and the hopes and apprehensions of the weak change places but co-exist as ever. “Egyptian Night of Fear”, in which a boy goes to an Eastern bazaar and falls into the clutches of depraved forces, is created in the writer’s characteristic style of magical realism, while the novella “Altynai” celebrates first love, radiant and sad, pure as virgin snow.
Now mythical, now lyrical, Welsapar’s characters face life’s injustice with a surprising optimism and fortitude. The intense Asiatic colour not only of nature but of human feelings and relationships, is expressed by the author in striking, expressive language making the reader unable to close the book until the last page.
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Ak Welsapar was born in 1956 in the former Soviet Republic of Turkmenistan. He received his Master’s degree in Journalism from Lomonosov Moscow State University in 1979. In 1987, Ak Welsapar became a member of the Soviet Writers’ Association and received his second Master’s degree in Literary Theory from the Maxim Gorky Literature Institute in 1989.
In 1993, after spending a year under house arrest, he was excluded from the Writers’ Association following the publication of some investigative articles about colossal ecological problems in Central Asia, mostly caused by the overuse of pesticides needed for cotton production. The consequences of this were terrible and even resulted in the Aral Sea drying up.
The regime in Turkmenistan declared Ak Welsapar a “public enemy”, and the persecution that he faced began again, with redoubled force. There was a ban on publishing works written by him, whilst his published books were confiscated from bookstores and libraries, to be burnt. To avoid unjust imprisonment and the persecution of his family, Ak Welsapar eventually left Turkmenistan in 1993. He and his family have now been residents of Sweden since 1994, where he is a member of the Swedish Writers’ Association. He has also been an honorary member of the International PEN-Club since 1993. Ak Welsapar writes in Russian, Turkmen and Swedish.
Ak Welsapar has contributed articles to such journals and newspapers as Literaturnaya Gazeta, Druzhba Narodov, Soviet Culture, The Washington Post, and many others. He is the author of more than 20 books but he made his debut as the author of the poetry anthologies Which of Us will Dive Deepest? (1982) and The First Drop (1983). His novel The Melon Head (1984) was awarded a prize in a Turkmen national literature competition. In 2012, The Union of Writers of Russia awarded Ak Welsapar the Sergei Yesenin literary prize. He also received the Nikolai Gogol prize for his book of short stories from the Writers’ Union of Ukraine in 2014.
Most of his novels are banned in Turkmenistan, including, to name but a few: A Long Journey to Nearby (1988), This Darkness Is Brighter (1989), The Bent Sword Hanging on the Old Carpet(1990), Mulli Tahir (1992), The Cobra (2003), The Tale of Aypi (2012).
Ak Welsapar is still a proscribed writer in Turkmenistan and his name has been in the list of black-listed writers since 1990.
Endorsements and Review Quotes
“Authoring more than 20 books, it is surprising that Welsapar isn’t more internationally known. It feels incongruous that, in a world awash with dystopian narratives and fantasies, so little attention is paid to the nations where such circumstances mirror reality.” The Calvert Journal
“I recommend Death of the Snake-catcher particularly to short story lovers and people who enjoy reading translations.” Nancy Horner, Bookfoolery
“With its intense and striking language Death of the Snake Catcher is a page turner from start to finish. A must read for all those looking to experience Welsapar’s impressive written style and narrative.” Buzz Magazine
“Welsapar’s basic humanity, however, shines forth throughout the collection. His characters, warts and all, are treated with compassion. The publisher Glagoslav has done well to bring this volume out, lifting as it does a corner of the veil which still shrouds this still largely unknown part of the world.” Peter Gordon, Asian Review of Books
“It is as though Welsapar writes us into the world he has left, letting us taste the bitterness of living in constant fear of recrimination for offences, or faults in interpretation, we may not even realise we have committed.” Ann Morgan, A Year of Reading the World
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