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The Silent Steppe: The Memoir of a Kazakh Nomad Under Stalin

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  104 ratings  ·  24 reviews
This is a first-hand account of the genocide of the Kazakh nomads in the 1920s and 30s. Nominally Muslim, the Kazakhs and their culture owed as much to shamanism and paganism as they did to Islam. Their ancient traditions and economy depended on the breeding and herding of stock across the vast steppes of central Asia, and their independent, nomadic way of life was ...more
Hardcover, 345 pages
Published October 4th 2007 by The Overlook Press (first published 2006)
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Average rating 3.92  · 
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Dinara Tengri
Jan 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
If you've followed my blog for a while, you may know that I am originally from Kazakhstan. And the older I get the more I get interested in the history of my people. And when it comes to history, I think most of us want to look beyond the facts and figures. It's the same with my people's history. What I want to learn is their culture, their philosophy, as well as the historical events that shaped the Kazakh people into what they are today.


In order to truly understand the Kazakh history, you
...more
Richard Newton
This is no literary masterpiece, so my rating reflects the contents rather than purely being about the style of the writing. This is a profoundly moving, personal account of the tragedy of the Kazakh nomads and the problems brought about by forced collectivisation. The writing style is actually fairly flat, almost impassive at times - which is probably a good thing as otherwise the book might be a painful read. As it is, it is informative and haunting. The author does not have a flair for ...more
Perry Teicher
Apr 07, 2010 rated it it was amazing
The author lays out a personal perspective on early Soviet times through WW2 in Kazakhstan. He doesn't present "big ideas" or theories exploring why Kazakhs responded in the manner they did to collectivization but rather shares his experiences. His experiences, repeated hundreds of thousands times over by the whole population in Kazakhstan, and millions over throughout the Soviet Union, is why the story is interesting. The general story is not unique, but his experiences and sharing of it are.

I
...more
Tom Johnson
Jun 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
a polite book. i'm sure the reality was far grittier.

Ust-Kamenogorsk now known as Oskemen. Relevant as a moment in my life; though as remote as the region.

the translation is not the best though that is a picayune matter.

if i ever complain about anything in my life i need but to recall this book and shut up. i have never suffered.

wikipedia: "Kalmyk cattle http://www.livestockoftheworld.com/Ca... have its own secure, nowadays largely unoccupied niche – vast Russian steppes in the East and the
...more
Marie
Aug 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: world-booklist
Kazakhstan

"During that period the population of indigenous Kazakhs fell by approximately 1.2 million from death by starvation."

"It was the first time I had seen grown-ups drying inconsolably, and it upset and baffled me."

"Contrary to the established Western idea of women in oriental countries, they enjoyed extensive rights, and often become the head not only of the family but of the whole clan."

"As we moved towards an uncertain future, the women kept glancing back, weeping as they did so, at the
...more
Susan
Aug 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: kazakhstan
I can't explain how or why I ended up owning this book (I guess I knew I'd get some insight into life in Uzbekistan, where I'm traveling soon, from reading about Kazakhstan. A fascinating account of the effects on a boy, his family, his community, his country of the Soviet agricultural policies in the 1920's and 1930's and the famine that ensued. A nomadic people were deprived suddenly of their means of livelihood and lifestyle and forced to become farmers on land that could not sustain ...more
Emma
May 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is a powerfully written memoir, which I felt gave me a lot of information about not only Mr. Shayakhmetov's life, but also the ancient Kazakh traditions, and how they were altered by the upheavals and outright mass murder of the USSR's policies. If you have any interest in these things, you absolutely must read this book.
Masha
Feb 23, 2019 rated it liked it
Amazingly lucky guy
Scripturiently Swag The Dragon-Hearted
This guy went through so much. Now, whenever I feel sad about how much homework I have, I'll remember Shayakhmetov, and feel grateful for everything in my life.
Sally
Aug 07, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: autobiography
"The pattern of our year was dictated by the needs of our herds and flocks", 7 August 2015

This review is from: Silent Steppe (Hardcover)
Until reading this work, I had never thought of how Stalin's policies impinged on the nomadic peoples of Central Asia. In this memoir, written by the son of a traditional Kazakh herding 'aul' (community), we follow his life from childhood in the 20s - a life of migration, of clan solidarity and traditional ways, to Stalin's disastrous enforced collectivisation
...more
Sue Lyle
Aug 04, 2014 rated it really liked it
This is a biography of a man who lived through the collectivisation of the land of kazak nomads under Stalin. 1.75 million, almost half the population died of starvation or imprisonment in 1932-3 alone. It is a story that no one in the west seems to know. I would give in 5* for information and historical insight, but the style is a memoir and lacks the skill of s professional writer . The man is not a writer,k he was a teacher and he wanted his grandchildren to know his story and the story of ...more
Val
Aug 19, 2012 rated it liked it
The book is let down a little by the very dry factual style in which it is written. It is informative about an area of the world and a way of life which has been little documented.
There are areas of the world where the traditional way of life is nomadic pastoralism: herding animals between grazing areas depending on rainfall, season, etc. This activity has often been practised for millennia in those areas, which are always sparsely populated arid grassland or frozen tundra. These habitats are
...more
Shannon Swan
Jul 31, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This is a first-hand account of the genocide of the Kazakhs during the collectivization terror enforced by Stalin in the 1930s, which resulted in wide spread famine and the death of one quarter of this indigenous nomadic herding population.

At one point while reading I threw the book across the room and sobbed, but it was worth every tear.

This story is not to be missed. It has a triumphant and happy ending. It's good to know that going in, because the ugly horrible truths that you read will be
...more
Meaghan
Sep 11, 2011 rated it really liked it
There aren't very many books in English that come out of Central Asia, particularly from this period. Mukhamet Shayakhmetov is one of the very few people still alive who are old enough to remember Stalin's Great Terror of the mid-thirties, as well as what life was like for the Kazakhs before the unending march of Soviet progress ended their way of life forever.

Shayakhmetov writes clearly and plainly, without pretensions or self-pity, almost in a journalistic fashion. I learned a lot from his
...more
Anna
Sep 19, 2011 rated it really liked it
Very readable account of the forgotten story of the nomadic Kazakhs under Stalin's regime. Written by one of the Kazakhs who lived it, includes interesting looks into what traditions the nomads had and interesting anecdotes of how many tried to get around the Soviet program of turning all peasants into 'collective' farmers (and stories of the ways the Soviet system went about making reluctant farmers and nomads comply--totally voluntarily, right? *wink, nudge*).
Chris Bartholomew
Sep 23, 2013 rated it liked it
A vignette of life in a Russian aul during the change over from a livestock society to the new Communist collective. The book covers just a brief period of time as the combination of Communism, drought and war (WWII) devastates the small village communities of Kazakhstan. Its a day by day search for the next meal and the next shelter. ...makes you happy for what you have today.
Nathan
Mar 24, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: did-not-finish
Meh. If I didn't already like history and Kazakhstan this book wouldn't have added anything. The subject matter itself is what's interesting, not the way the story is told. Yes, it's translated from Russian... but in a very boring way.
Julie
Sep 07, 2012 rated it really liked it
Because I have lived in this area, it was interesting to read the story of this man's life.
Josh
Jan 20, 2013 rated it really liked it
Good memoir of the Kazakh famine, makes very vivid the transition from nomadism to Soviet times.
Jeff
Feb 03, 2013 rated it really liked it
Great book. A real life story of the oppression, persecution and terror under the communist rule of Stalin.
Michaella Valkenaar
Jan 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: spy-stuff
I had to turn it back into the library, so I missed the last for chapters of this clearly written and excellent biography.
Алиман Е.
rated it really liked it
Mar 02, 2017
Jessica
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Aug 22, 2017
Akram Azerbayev
rated it it was amazing
Feb 09, 2019
Peter
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Oct 03, 2014
Anna
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Apr 17, 2012
Victoria
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Dec 20, 2009
Mike
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Jan 18, 2019
Poorni
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Dec 10, 2018
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Mukhamet Shayakhmetov was born in Kamyshinka village, East Kazakhstan Region. He was drafted by enlistment office of administrative center of Kurshim District in 125th reserve regiment of Semipalatinsk city. Since June 27th, 1942 he served as a scout in 656th regiment of 116th Eastern Front infantry division, took part in Smolensk and Stalingrad battles. Returned home after the war and worked as a ...more