Every week, a look at the poetic news. This Monday, a collection of poems and short stories by contemporary Uyghur authors and texts from the oral tradition. They show the diversity of this little-known literature, rich in a millennial history.
“You didn’t kiss my dumb lips / So the sorrow in me flared up. The chair you’re sitting on, cigarette in hand /Reminded me of the color of your shirt the other night. Browse the anthology Uyghur literature, poetry and prose, it’s bouncing from a poem to a short story, from a nursery rhyme to a chivalrous tale, from a contemporary novel to a Sufi legend, rarely or never translated so far. In Xinjiang (or Eastern Turkestan), a vast semi-desert region located in western China, writing, editing or simply having on one’s shelf one of these texts would be enough to be arrested and sentenced for “separatism”, “terrorism” or “extremism”. Like Chimengül Awut, author of the verses above and of whom we have not heard from since being sent to a “re-education camp” in 2018, or Perhat Tursun, a renowned writer who was reportedly sentenced to sixteen years in prison, some of the authors gathered in this work have disappeared or are detained, others are in exile or are already enthroned in the pantheon of Uyghur literature.
The traditional lullabies collected by the Uyghur ethnomusicologist Mukaddas Mijit before the start of the massive campaigns of arrests and internment, fascinate with their darkness: “When I woke up, it was already dawn, my baby. I am filled with sorrow, my baby. From the cruelty of this world, I am filled with disgust, my baby. In his news Plato’s Shovel, Perhat Tursun takes us on an absurd quest for a missing shovel through the twists and turns of family relationships, pettiness and male rivalry in a fading Central Asian peasant universe. For its part, in a story that recalls the moustache by Emmanuel Carrère, the writer Helide Isra’il depicts an educated man ostracized from society because he saw a cow with big horns enter his boss’s apartment. “I wondered how words like ‘crazy’, ‘lost’ or ‘crazy’ could spread as easily as the wind. Was this one of the effects of this “information age”? wonders his hero who, under social pressure, ends up backing down but finds himself a spectator of his own life: “I missed the time when I had been alienated. Saddened, but pure. Disgraced, but full of good feelings – like a philosopher.” “Flee”, of Gul. Ay, describes how a well-to-do and connected young Beijinger, whose only crime is being born Uyghur, sees, in disbelief, a genocidal and dystopian cycle closing in which leaves her no choice but to suffer repression, participate in it, or run away just before being crushed, as the novelist herself did.
While hundreds of Turkish intellectuals and artists have been arrested since 2017, this collection of texts, the fruit of the work of Franco-Belgian researcher Vanessa Frangville and Mukaddas Mijit, who is also a filmmaker and dancer, opens the doors to prison. in which Uyghur literary creation has been enclosed. And gives back to those who wrote them their dignity as high-flying intellectuals.