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The Dead Lake

3.75  ·  Rating details ·  398 ratings  ·  68 reviews
A haunting Russian tale about the environmental legacy of the Cold War. Yerzhan grows up in a remote part of Kazakhstan where the Soviets tests atomic weapons. As a young boy he falls in love with the neighbour's daughter and one evening, to impress her, he dives into a forbidden lake. The radio-active water changes Yerzhan. He will never grow into a man. While the girl he ...more
Paperback, 128 pages
Published February 27th 2014 by Peirene Press (first published February 15th 2014)
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Average rating 3.75  · 
Rating details
 ·  398 ratings  ·  68 reviews

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Jul 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: peirene-press
A story told during a train journey thorough the vast steppes of Kazakhstan by a violinist who relates his life in a small village near a nuclear test site simply referred to as The Zone, that had dramatic consequences in his life. Hamid Ismailov mentions that for forty years, during the cold war, in that populated region, the Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test Site conducted nuclear explosions both atmospheric and underground. As a result, the twenty-seven-year-old Yerzhan’s growth was affected and he ...more
Nov 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Whilst on a train journey across Kazakhstan, the narrator meets Yerzhan, a twenty-seven year old itinerant peddler and virtuoso violinist who, strangely, has the looks and build of a boy of twelve years. After overcoming his initial diffidence, Yerzhan starts to recount the tale of his childhood. He recalls growing up in a two-family settlement on a lonely, remote railway outpost in the Kazakh steppes, close to a top-secret “Zone” where Soviet nuclear experiments were carried out. He tells of hi ...more
Sep 21, 2016 rated it really liked it
Hamid Ismailov’s The Dead Lake is the first in Peirene's Coming-of-Age: Towards Identity series. It was first published in Russia in 2011, and as with all of the Peirene titles, this is its first translation into English. Andrew Bromfield has done a marvellous job in this respect, and it goes without saying that the book itself is beautiful.

The author’s own life is worth mentioning in this review. Hamid Ismailov was born in Kyrgyzstan, and moved to Uzbekistan when he was a young man. In 1994, he
Apr 02, 2017 rated it liked it
Ominous and timely, when you think about our own man-who-never-grew-up's plans to destroy our water.
Wiebke (1book1review)
This was an impressive tale of a young boy and his family living next to the railway station and a nuclear bomb testing area.
I was drawn in by the narration, trying to solve the mystery of the young man's history and the style of the narration.
Dec 2014.
The joy of the steppe, the joy of music and the joy of childhood always coexisted in Yerzhan with the anticipation of that inescapable, terrible, abominable thing that came as a rumbling and a trembling, and then a swirling , sweeping tornado from the Zone.

Two families still living the ways of ancient Kazakh culture coexist alongside Soviet nuclear testing, one son a musical prodigy; I found the themes and the telling enthralling, and this is by far the best of the Peirene novellas I've
Jan 15, 2014 rated it really liked it
An astonishing tale tinged with sadness,recounted by Yerzhan to a stranger on a train journey, that is in part imagined by the listener.

Yerzhan grows up at a railway siding, where two families live, their lives more intertwined than appears on the surface. Every so often the ground shakes, another sun rises and everything is still. Then there is the Zone, that area where it is so silent, his ears ring.

Yerzhan learns the violin and is bright, but the real light in his life is Aisula, a light that
Mar 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This is an astonishing novella which at 122 pages is full of lyricism and poetry, traditional tales, music and the modern day horror of nuclear testing. An intro tells the reader that from 1949 to 1989 468 nuclear explosions were tested in a test site in the Kazakh steppes. This story tells of Yerzhan a 27 year old man who looks like a 12 year old boy whom the narrator meets on a train selling yoghurt and playing his violin. He then tells the story of his and his families exposure to nuclear rad ...more
Aug 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-in-2015, iffp
Hauntingly beautiful writing, even when reporting the horrific.
Jan 06, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: world, uzbekistan
In a Zweig-like framing device, the story is told in the course of a train journey through Kazakhstan. The story involves a boy growing up in an isolated location close to a Soviet nuclear testing site, and the effect this has on him and his family, as they nevertheless continue with their lives (schooling, friendship, musical talent, farming). Tragedy strikes early in the boy's life after a dip in a toxic lake causes him to stop growing; meanwhile, by contrast, his uncle insists on the Soviet p ...more
Mar 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This was my first Peirene book, and as a previous reviewer has already stated, I hope it will not be my last. Every page kept my interest and I highly recommend this book to anyone who like myself wanted to come out of their usual comfort zone of reading. I am not in a book club, but for the first time ever I wish I was, so I could find out other readers interpretations.
The title of Ismailov's novella comes from the radioactive lake Yerzhan dives into in an attempt to show off to the neighbor's daughter, Aisulu, and his other classmates. The lake has an ethereal quality to it; Yerzhan can't believe something so beautiful could really be damaging to him.

"It was a beautiful lake that had formed after the explosion of an atomic bomb. A fairy-tale lake, right there in the middle of the flat, level steppe, a stretch of emerald-green water, reflecting the rare stray
Elena Sala
Dec 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
THE DEAD LAKE (2011) is a hauntingly beautiful novella, part of Peirene Press’ Coming of Age series.

At the beginning, an unnamed traveller encounters Yerzhan, a 27 year-old man seemingly confined to the body of a 12 year old boy, selling yoghurt and playing the violin beautifully on the platform of a railway station. Fascinated by this prodigy, he invites him to join him on his train journey. Yerzhan accepts and then proceeds to share his account of growing up in a two-family railway “stop” on t
Mirjam Visscher
Oct 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: lit
I love this novel! It is artful composed, with a great storyline and beautifully written. Please read it, this won't take you more than 2 hours of your life.
"The boundless steppes of Kazakhstan"
By sally tarbox on 12 March 2018
Format: Kindle Edition
The narrator of this novella is travelling through the remote Kazakh steppe by train; while on it he encounters a boy of 10 or 12 playing the violin and selling drinks. In their ensuing conversation, it transpires that the musician is no child but a twenty-seven year old man, and as the journey continues, Yerezhan tells of his life...

In a tiny hamlet (just two households), the boy had a happy enough childh
Apr 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
How do you tell the story of a remote injustice to a jaded world?

You could make a documentary, or interview the survivors and write a 15,000-word magazine exposé. You could petition the authorities to commission an official enquiry, and wait a decade or two for the results. Hamid Ismailov chose to write a lyrical literary fairytale about a boy who swam in a forbidden lake and never grew up.

The injustice in question is the detonation of 468 nuclear bombs in four decades of testing at the Semipala
Paul Fulcher
Jun 23, 2015 rated it liked it
"Does anything make sense" he retored, suddenly prickly again, and his question seemed to be addressed not to me, but to this train galloping across the steppe, to this blazing steppe spread out across the earth, to this earth, adrift between light and darkness, to this darkness which..."

The Dead Lake was longlisted for the 2015 Independent Foreignn Fiction Prize, and indeed shortlisted by the generally more discerning, shadow jury.

The IFFP is, naturally, awarded jointly to both the original aut
Pickle Farmer
Mar 15, 2015 rated it really liked it
3 1/2 stars. What an intensely strange book. A totally nuts modern-day fairy tale set in rural Kazakhstan where atomic bombs are frequently set off for Soviet tests. This is a brutal world, where donkeys nearly choke to death on cabbage stalks, pet baby fox cubs are mauled to death and your grandmother will scratch your anus, itching with little squirming worms, before hitting you across the face with the fingers she just used. In this world we meet Yerzhan, a violin prodigy obsessed with Americ ...more
Janet Emson
Feb 04, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviewed, owned-books
"A haunting Russian tale about the environmental legacy of the Cold War.

Yerzhan grows up in a remote part of Kazakhstan where the Soviets tests atomic weapons. As a young boy he falls in love with the neighbour’s daughter and one evening, to impress her, he dives into a forbidden lake. The radio-active water changes Yerzhan. He will never grow into a man. While the girl he loves becomes a beautiful woman."

I was provided with a copy of this novella by the publishers in exchange for an honest revi
Feb 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: translated
Yerzhan is a young boy, growing up on the remote steppe of Soviet Kazakhstan where nuclear weapons are tested on his doorstep. He intends to marry the girl next door, the only girl next door for miles and he has a talent for music. But when he dives into a polluted lake, the water changes him. Yerzhan will never grow into a man.

The writing is beautifully evocative, creating a vivid picture of the wildness of the steppe and the culture of Yerzhan’s family. Their life in isolation is simple and ti
Victoria Kellaway
Apr 29, 2016 rated it did not like it
This novella is designed to be read in one sitting and is a story within a story, that of a travelling musician whom the narrator meets on a train. I was excited about reading it because I like magical realism and understood the novella would be full of it, with the added "Is this magical realism or could this really happen?" tension of being set near a nuclear testing site.

Unfortunately for me, I didn't enjoy the way the greater part of this novella was written. The narrator tells us the man r
Our unnamed narrator boards a train heading through Kazakhstan. He meets what appears to be a little boy, but turns out to be a grown man named Yerzhan, who is trapped in a child's body. Yerzhan begins relating his unique life story to the narrator. About halfway through the journey, they decide to take a break. When the narrator returns to their cabin, Yerzhan has fallen asleep. The author then takes the story in a direction that was incredibly surprising and fresh to me. I am really curious as ...more
Oct 31, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: rated-5
Could not put it down and would highly recommend this book to family and friends.
Beautiful style of writing REALLY beautiful
Sue Kozlowski
I read this book as part of my quest to read a book written by an author from each of the 169 countries in the world. The author of this book grew up in Kazakhstan.

I read this book through twice. A little background and history will help the reader to understand this book better.
The story takes place in East Kazakhstan. This region occupies the easternmost part of Kazakhstan, along both sides of the Irtysh River and Lake Zaysan. The region borders Russia in the north and northeast and the People
Jun 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
I came to this book having listened to a documentary about the Soviet nuclear testing site in Khazakhstan and the long lasting legacy of that.

The story is of young man of 27, Yerzhan, who looks to all the world like a 12 year old boy and his childhood on the steppe with a tiny and remote two family community. They live in close proximity to the Zone, the testing site (one character works there), the periodic 'earthquakes' terrify Yerzhan and the many references to a world war provide a sense of
Jan 19, 2020 rated it liked it
Nearly all my enjoyment of this book was the due to the informative nature of the text with respect to the Kazakh culture and regional history. I set this aside a few times to "research" a few items, and found out the region was the site of hundreds of Soviet nuclear tests fo several decades. Learning something about a place is fun, and those schoolboy asides allowed a rather tepid story to take on additional interest.
I had hoped for a more fantastical/make-believe aspect considering the unreal
Barry Litherland
Sep 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I love books where particular images remain in the mind long after the book is closed. Here I see a line of telegraph poles stretch across an infinity of space and a railway line. I'm also haunted by the final image of the book. I also love the way that this book pursues an incomplete narrative which then follows the writer's imagination as he considers alternative developments. It's an intriguing, thought provoking book which encapsulates much in a short space.
Jul 22, 2019 rated it liked it
Recommended to Adam by: Think this was in a list on the Crime Reads site
Shelves: far-corners, russia
Good mix of that kind of arbitrary I-broke-a-rule-I-didn't-understand horror that you find in fairy tales and nuclear disaster stories. The tone is that same weird combination of Soviet nostalgia and let's-relitigate-the-Cold-War as HBO's Chernobyl but with some steppe lore thrown in for god measure.
Aug 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
kindle lied to me and this book ended 7% too early
not 5 starts bc of this I mean damn theres so many unanswered questions 10/10 would love to read more
the only grim part about this is when Yerzhan stopped telling the story and the author added to his own speculation. Other than that it's basically life, cultural and local wisdom.
Shawn Quan
Dec 30, 2019 rated it liked it
An interesting 2 hr read about Kazakhstan and the life there during the Cold War, life on the steppe is vividly described and eye opening. The ending has a magical realism flavor.
Dream of taking a long long train across the steppes
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