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The Railway

3.54  ·  Rating details ·  114 ratings  ·  19 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 July 5th 2007 by Vintage (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
May 22, 2012 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
Zoe Brooks
Jul 12, 2015 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
Apr 23, 2010 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
I wanted to like this book a lot more than I did. The novel takes place in Uzbekistan, and features a huge, diverse cast of characters, representatives from the many ethnic groups in the area. I found the first part to be funny and poignant with a meandering but engaging voice. Each of the characters has a nickname reflective of a defining characteristic, such as Opok-Lovely or Umarali-Moneybags, which definitely helped with remembering them (also useful is an appendix at the end of the book lis ...more
Aaron Duhwit
Nov 04, 2018 rated it it was ok
a book of intersecting stories of a cast of dozens in a soviet uzbek town, with humourous, sad, disturbing, and biting anecdotes of life before and during communism in now-uzbekistan.

occasionally, though increasingly, i'd lose the thread of the thing. the cast of characters became difficult for me to keep track of, and certain motivations, insinuations, and allusions were lost on me (or more likely just went over my head). but i like Ismailov's voice, and the initiation to a small place, with a
Ee Cheng Ooi
Jan 22, 2018 rated it liked it
A difficult book to read. One that I'll return to in greater detail some day.
Mar 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
It was a gift from a friend with flawless literary taste in Caucasia, so I knew I should get down to it. Exploring this strange maze of characters, places and stories was very difficult and very enjoyable. I may need a re-read!
Feb 05, 2012 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 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 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 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
Oct 25, 2015 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 rated it it was ok
Shelves: asia, fiction
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 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
Tim Scott
Feb 20, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: best-per-country
A hit or miss jumble of stories in chapters that are very interesting or terribly dull.
Sep 09, 2014 rated it it was ok
Good insights into Uzbek life during the USSR. Translation is somewhat poor. Difficult read.
Nadira Artyk
May 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
An amazing piece of postmodernist literature. Great story set in Soviet Central Asia.
Stephen Hinkle
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Jul 20, 2015
Dan Mahony
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Jul 08, 2017
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Aug 30, 2016
Kyle Yarbrough
rated it it was amazing
Apr 22, 2015
Ferdous Koreshi
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Mar 18, 2018
Gina Ochsner
rated it it was amazing
Sep 23, 2009
rated it liked it
Mar 08, 2014
rated it it was ok
Oct 16, 2013
Jayan Parameswaran
rated it it was amazing
Sep 27, 2008
rated it it was ok
May 15, 2009
Michael Scott
rated it it was amazing
Jul 23, 2018
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Middle East/North...: Uzbekistan: The Railway 4 14 Nov 14, 2015 01:32PM  
The Armchair Trav...: * The Railway * Discussion 8 9 May 19, 2015 09:57PM  
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