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The Railway

3.57  ·  Rating Details ·  75 Ratings  ·  15 Reviews
Set mainly in Uzbekistan between 1900 and 1980, this compelling novel introduces to us the inhabitants of the small town of Gilas on the ancient Silk Route. Among those whose stories we hear are Mefody-Jurisprudence, the town's alcoholic intellectual; Father Ioann, a Russian priest; Kara-Musayev the Younger, the chief of police; and Umarali-Moneybags, the old moneylender. ...more
Paperback, 336 pages
Published April 28th 2008 by Random House UK (first published March 1st 2006)
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Harry Rutherford
Having set myself the modest enough goal for 2010 of reading a few more books for the Read The World challenge than I did in 2009… I’m already behind schedule. We’re into March and I’ve only just finished my first. Ho-hum.

The Railway (translated by Robert Chandler) is my book from Uzbekistan. I was slightly peeved when I received the book to read in the author bio that Hamid Ismailov was actually born in Kirghizstan, but his Uzbek credentials appear to be otherwise impeccable. His parents were j
Zoe Brooks
Jul 12, 2015 Zoe Brooks rated it it was amazing
Shelves: magic-realism
This review first appeared on the Magic Realism Books blog -

Have I told you that I have developed a liking for Russian magic realism? Yes, I think I have. And now I can add that I also enjoy magic realism from Uzbekistan, the now independent state which was part of the former Soviet Union. Hamid Ismailov is clearly in the tradition of Russian satirical magic realism that I admire so much in Bulgakov and Gogol, but this is combined with the traditions of Mu
May 22, 2012 Val rated it it was amazing
Shelves: world-tour
"The Railway" is both a confusing and a delightful book. There are a lot of characters from a lot of different ethnic groups; it spans several years in a non-chronological way; it has the odd history lesson or maybe just a legend thrown in from time to time; it has mystical meditations on the meaning of life and God (Allah) and man, which are very seriously meant, and some communist tenets which are probably not; it has a few trains. The various characters may leave and then may or may not come ...more
Feb 05, 2012 Carol rated it it was ok
Some aspects of this book I liked, but it was very scattered, jumping around in time and from character to character, which made it extremely difficult to follow. It doesn't really have a plot. Since I knew nothing about Central Asia I did learn a lot from it. I was surprised at the wild mix of cultures and languages, the huge migrations due to exile, war, political upheavals. The book is funny in a farsical, satirical way. The crazy changes that the Russians imposed are so sad they are funny. L ...more
2.5 stars really. I really wanted to love this book, but there were so many things about it that I didn't like. I will give the pros and cons.

The Railway is a story set in Uzbekistan town of Gilas between 1900 and 1980, and the Rail Road and the station are central to the story.

Pros: The Railway is a tragic comedy. Indeed there are some very funny scenes. Ismailov is able to incorporate a lot of Uzbek history in this rather concise novel.
Robert Chandler, the translator put in lots of footnote
Mar 09, 2015 Arjen rated it liked it
The Railway is a confusing blend of mystic Islam, an extensive cast of characters that reminds of Russian novels, magic realism, communist sloganism, and lots of dirt and poverty. The novel is set in Gilas, Uzbekistan, a railroad town in the steppe. It tells the story of its inhabitants, its legends and the remarkable ethnic mix of this land owing to the many mass movements instigated by Stalin. Only a few characters really come to live, amongst which are the priest and Obik-lovely. The book is ...more
Aug 19, 2013 Mitchell rated it liked it
People who have spent time in the Central Asia region and are familiar with its history would find this a worthwhile read, but others may find it a little baffling. Ismailov's series of stories is largely about a lost world of a multi-pot society struggling to make sense of the Soviet way. He does bring a lot of forgotten history his tales, especially armed resistance to the Soviet takeover of the region. The number of characters is huge and difficult to remember. There is a list of the end that ...more
Mar 02, 2009 CarolineFromConcord rated it liked it
Magical realism in Uzbekistan. Very strange novel. I didn't understand half of it, but I decided that as long as I understood some of it, I was ahead of where I had been before. The footnotes helped. I learned a few interesting things about Central Asia, which is a hodgepodge of nationalities. Just for example, when Koreans migrated into the Soviet Union during the famine of the 1920s, Stalin rounded them up and sent them to Central Asia. He was afraid they would be too friendly with the Japanes ...more
Apr 23, 2010 Baklavahalva rated it really liked it
Yes, it's extremely postcolonial magical-realist, which means you can expect tears to destroy cinema carpets, people to be able to remove shadows, enormous penises to bring down a fence, and similar things, while the characters invoke Communist leaders and Allah. Everyone's fighting for their own personal interest, absolutely willing to have their adversaries, whether politicians, musicians, or bazaar sellers, sent to Gulag. Almost everybody at some point in this book gets sent to a labor camp. ...more
Oct 25, 2015 Anurag rated it really liked it
The book is a delight to read. It may appear confusing (and it is at certain parts) but a decent knowledge of the world and especially Central Asia in the 20th century should keep you quite steady on the timelines.
I found it to be more a collection of short stories than a novel, except for the part of the boy. Reading it in the form of short stories doesn't clutter the mind as one continuous reading will surely do.
A reader accustomed to the English or American world (in books) might find it st
Mar 22, 2015 Alice rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction, asia
Page 97, and I'm giving up. I really shouldn't have read beyond the description of this books as "A poet's novel." I really don't like poetry, and poetic novels. Plus, this one is really more like a collection of short stories (which I also don't like).
Aug 26, 2012 Steve rated it really liked it
A bit scattered but worth persisting with - I had to read it twice to really follow it properly but it was worth persisting with
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Middle East/North...: Uzbekistan: The Railway 4 13 Nov 14, 2015 01:32PM  
The Armchair Trav...: * The Railway * Discussion 8 7 May 19, 2015 09:57PM  
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