ALEC FARMER WRITES – Nature is a brutal place with harsh circumstances that may push anybody to their limits. Regardless of the vastness of its glory, nature can be a spot of unmatched serene magnificence. This dichotomy of truths is ever-present for many who stay and transfer alongside the Earth. Journalist Li Juan tackles this concept via her writings as this can be a vital idea in her second guide, Winter Pasture: One Lady’s Journey with China’s Kazakh Herders (2021).
All through her profession, Li Juan continued to discover the connection between pure environments and their communities. Li Juan’s first guide, Distant Sunflower Fields (2021), paperwork her household’s experiences touring via China’s Gobi Desert. Equally, Winter Pasture (2021) follows a nomadic group via harsh terrain. Nevertheless, in Winter Pasture, the atmosphere is a frigid mountain vary, and the cultural neighborhood is that of the Kazakh folks.
The Kazakhs are an ethnic group unfold closely all through Central and East Asia. This culturally wealthy neighborhood is the main focus of Li Juan’s novel and their continuation of nomadic pastoralism. Li Juan writes that “the six-month-long winter and the infertile land imposed a nomadic “way of life” onto the Kazakh folks’s ancestors. 12 months after yr, survival demanded obedience to nature’s rhythm.” Thus, the Kazakh folks’s cultural continuation of transhumance serves because the spine of this fantastically rendered literary examine.
In describing the Kazakh’s nomadic way of life, Li Juan takes a really intimate strategy as she travels and resides with the Cuma household. Relatively than approaching this custom from the macro, Li Juan enlightens her viewers via the eyes of a single household. All through the guide, the argument is introduced as much as Li Juan that “somebody such as you who desires to put in writing about our winter pastures, can’t simply keep in a single place” as this Kazakh follow is in its very nature migratory. This transhumance continually strikes these households a whole lot of miles throughout Earth’s barren and exquisite floor. But, creator Li Juan is unfamiliar with Kazakh tradition on the guide’s outset. As a substitute of attempting to be taught each side of this follow, the guide is an intimate portrait of 1 household and their connection to their tradition, one another, and the Earth.
The Cuma household is very partaking to comply with as everybody has such distinctive and fascinating personalities. When describing Cuma, the daddy determine, Li Juan writes, “Their world was one thing like this—an enormous sky and an enormous earth, by which they dwelt alone and much aside; the place the times have been quiet and uninteresting, life laborious and lonely, disadvantaged of contact with the skin world; and the place most individuals have been resigned to a lifetime of quiescence. So the presence of a personality like Cuma supplied folks a way of pleasure and aid.” Every member of this familial unit helps to take away the sensation of isolation from their often-desolate environment. Whether or not it’s the sly feedback made by Cuma, the fervour for artwork displayed by the nineteen-year-old Kama, or the quiet reassurance and understanding of the household’s mom determine, they collectively create a way of neighborhood. Regardless of dwelling in harsh and barren circumstances for these winter months, this novel is reassuring as these people and their dynamics seize a sentiment continuously felt although hardly ever appreciated — familial magnificence.
Whereas the main focus is totally on the Cuma household, Li Juan doesn’t stay a passive character in her guide. She works to earn her hold inside the familial unit. The extraordinary bodily labor usually leaves Li Juan fairly exhausted and “In consequence, on the second day, I ended up miserably drained. By the point we reached camp, my legs have been aching and stiff, my buttocks have been too sore to sit down on a saddle. As for the intractable camels—I dare not put my rage in phrases right here.” Whereas this grueling bodily labor is portrayed as being fairly tough, it additionally results in serene moments of introspection whereas in nature. Li Juan explains that “There was one other world throughout from our world, one past the curtain on the world’s edge, a seemingly impenetrable world. But, slowly and silently we crossed into it. In the course of this expanse, I may absolutely really feel the roundness of the earth—the earth curved down in all instructions as our crew of camels inched alongside the crest of the sphere.”
On this novel, Li Juan’s writings are past stunning, regardless that they derive from her handbook labor in frigid circumstances. This duality of nature’s magnificence and brutality is central to this guide and Li Juan’s profession. The demanding nomadic way of life is seen as mundane by the Kazakh folks within the guide. A number of the herders even ask Li Juan “what’s there to put in writing about” in relation to transhumance. Nevertheless, for Li Juan who spent a lot of her grownup life in cities, the hardships that come from a nomadic way of life are fairly revelatory for each the creator and her readers. It’s via a deeply private expertise with nature and neighborhood that Li Juan crafts a guide that speaks to the problems of dwelling, not simply on, however with this planet.
A parallel that continuously seems all through the guide is the connection between nature and the nomadic Kazakh tradition. “Previously, life within the wilderness should have been much more tough and remoted. However even in a life like that, magnificence was a necessity. When folks completed their work and located a second to spare, they stripped the damp tree bark and thoroughly smoked their easy leather-based garments. When a determine on horseback would slowly emerge out of a forest—his crimson, not the crimson of his garments, however the crimson of his thoughts … the crimson glad the world’s tiniest want for magnificence.” The historical past of this want for magnificence is encapsulated within the visible arts of the native Kazakh folks. People akin to Kama work on embroidery and to seize the feelings that nature and neighborhood can elicit.
The translators of this guide, Jack Hargreaves and Yan Yan, labored to protect the Kazakh tradition for unaware and curious English readers. Whereas the unique model of Winter Pasture had temporary descriptions in Chinese language for Kazakh phrases and phrases, the translators opted to not translate culturally particular iconography and phrases into English however as a substitute write them of their Romanized variations. This romanization permits these things and phrases to retain their cultural heritage whereas insuring they don’t seem to be misplaced in translation to an English reader. Each the creator Li Juan and the translators usually solely give quick descriptions of those untranslated phrases, as if to immediate the viewers to additional analysis the Kazakh tradition outdoors of this guide.
Winter Pasture is tinged with melancholy because the Cuma household and lots of different Kazakh folks comment on how nomadism is turning into more and more tougher, with fewer households in a position to make these treks yearly. Nevertheless, this follow and its connection to the Earth shouldn’t be forgotten. It needs to be talked about that the Cuma household and different Kazakh’s who stay inside China’s borders are confronted with the nation’s more and more hostile insurance policies in direction of ethnic minorities. The longer term stays unclear for the Kazakh folks dwelling in China. Nevertheless, the nomadic Kazakh tradition symbolizes a transcendence of geopolitics and borders. The bodily act of transhumance represents the Kazakh tradition’s reverence for nature that needs to be admired, not demonized, by anybody who lives on this planet.
In the direction of the top of Li Juan’s journey with the Cuma household, she remarks that “life was already tough sufficient, they didn’t want an outsider chewing their ears off all day lengthy, not solely being of little use but in addition a relentless distraction—I refuse to be that particular person. Plus, we had greater than only a day or two collectively, there could be loads of time and alternative—higher that I rely by myself experiences little by little and slowly attempt to be taught.” This guide is a particular alternative to be taught concerning the stunning, harsh, and transitory way of life of China’s Kazakh herders.
New AMI guide reviewer, Alec Farmer, just lately graduated from LMU with a level in Movie and TV Manufacturing and a minor in Asian and Pacific Research. He has studied modern Asian literature and cinema.
*Edited by guide evaluate editor-in-chief, Ella Kelleher.