The Blue Sky

2003333355
By Galsan Tschinag

Translated by Katharina Rout
Milkweed Editions, 2006 

Galsan Tschinag is the German name taken by Irgit Shynykbai-oglu Dshurukuwaa, a Tuvan born in Mongolia in the early 1940s. Tschinag studied in Germany in the early ’60s and ended up leading the Tuvan people, dispersed under Communism, back to the High Altai mountain region. This autobiographical novel, the first of a trilogy, mines his Mongolian boyhood as a youngest child with an unusual devotion to his grandmother (who comes to live with his immediate family in their yurt). Galsan has aspirations to increase the family’s holdings to 1,000 animals and a yurt with a mirror and a suitcase. As Tuvan customs get disrupted by the Communist government’s attempts at societal homogenization, the boy continues to tend sheep without the company of his siblings (sent to boarding school) and turns to Arsylang, his dog, for companionship. The foundations for his natural ambitions disappear piecemeal. Tschinag offers softly outlined characters more in the oral tradition than that of the novel, and fly-on-the-wall depictions of the Tuvans, a generally nonaggressive, nomadic tribe with a knack for maxims and poetic superstitions. Descriptions of the Altai mountains, remarkable sky, and closeness to the flock are slow but rich. The book is filled with small pleasures. (Publishers Weekly)