Aitmatov, Chingiz. Born 12 December 1928 in the village of Sheker, Talas region, Kirgizia. His father, Torekul Aitmatov, was one of the first Kirghiz communists and a regional party secretary. In 1937, while attending the Institute for Red Professorship in Moscow, Torekul was arrested and eventually liquidated on charges of bourgeois nationalism.

Between 1943 and 1952, Aitmatov was assistant to the Secretary of the Sheker Village Soviet. During this time, he tried his hand at translation, rendering Kataev's Sons of the Regiment and Babayevsky's White Birch in Kirghiz.

He attended the Animal Husbandry Division of the Kirghiz Agricultural Institute in Frunze, but changed from the study of livestock to the study of literature at the Gorky Literature Institute in Moscow.

He began his own literary career in 1952 with the publication of two stories in Russia: The Newspaper Boy Dziuio and Ashim. His first story written in Kirghiz was Ak jann ("White Rain"), which appeared in 1954.

He worked as roving correspondent for Pravda in Kirghizia from 1958 to 1966. His collection of short stories Tales of Mountains and Steppes (1963), won him the Lenin Prize. In 1967 he became a member of the Executive Board of the Soviet Writers Union, and in 1968 he won the Soviet State Prize for literature for his novel Farewell, Gulsary!, a tale of an old man reminiscing about the parallel lives of himself and his old horse, which is dying. Aitmatov won two more State Prizes in 1977 and 1983, and was named a Hero of Socialist Labor in 1978.

A major theme in Aitmatov's work is the inequality among men and women in traditional central Asian society. He also criticizes bias, the mullahs, lack of access to education for women, treatment of women as commodities, and polygamy. A good example of this is the tale Jamila (1958). The title character, a married village woman, falls in love with another man while her husband (who treats her more as an object of ownership than an object of love) is off at the front. In the end, the lovers run off together, abandoning their village and the traditional conventions.

In 1972 he wrote The White Ship, about an orphan boy dreams of becoming a fish so that he can join his father who, he believes, sails in the white ship on the Issyk-Kul Lake.

Aitmatov's 1973 play The Ascent of Mt. Fuji, written with Kaltai Mukhamedzhanov, dealt with the suppression of dissent and caused a sensation when produced in Moscow.

He was First Secretary and Chairman of the Cinema Union of Kirghizia from 1964 to 1985, and in 1985 he was named Chairman of the Kirghiz Writers Union. In the 1990s, he served as an advisor to Gorbachev and in 1990 was named Soviet Ambassabor to Luxemburg.

His most important works include: A Difficult Passage (1956), Face to Face (1957), Farewell, Gulsary! (1967), The First Teacher (1967), The White Ship (1972), The Ascent of Mt. Fuji (1973), and The Day Lasts More Than a Hundred Years (1980), which intertwines a treatment of ordinary people of Central Asia with a science fiction plot of space stations, aliens, and new planets.

Aitmatov has received numerous foreign awards, including the Gold Olive Branch of the Mediterranean Culture Research Center (1988), the Academy Award of the Japanese Institute of Oriental Philosophy (1988) and the Austrian State Prize for European Literature (1994).

He is currently a member of the Kyrgyzistan's parlimanent and serves as his nation's ambassador to the European Union, NATO, UNESCO, Belgium, Luxemburg and the Netherlands and is based in Brussels. He has a son and a daughter.

Recommended Reading: The Art of Chingiz Aitmatov's Stories by Iraj Bashiri.


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