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This Is Not Civilization

by

This Is Not Civilization Cover

 

 

Excerpt

1

The idea of using porn films to encourage the dairy cows to breed was a poor

one. Anarbek Tashtanaliev, the manager of the cheese factory, had been

inspired by a Moscow news broadcast. From Russia the television signal

crossed the Kazakh steppes, was beamed to Bishkek, the Kyrgyz capital,

and then relayed up and over the Tien Shan range and into desolate pockets

of the new nation. If the Central Asian weather was favorable, the forgotten

village of Kyzyl Adyr–Kirovka received the world news. As a result, one

Wednesday Anarbek discovered that the Chinese had successfully used

taped videos of fornicating bears to coax pandas to breed. The possibility of

increased productivity based on a regimen of bovine erotica seemed

promising. And the scheme had the single merit of all brilliant ideas: it was

obvious.

Anarbek purchased dated Soviet video equipment across the

Kazakh border in the Djambul bazaar. He kept factory workers on a twenty-

four-hour watch to record, on tape, the next time the bulls went at it. But the

workers had no luck that fall. In the spring he sent his employees up the

shepherd hill next to the reservoir with an order to film copulating sheep.

Thirty days later they had recorded over four and a half hours of tape. The

following summer they projected this film each night, in color, onto the

factory walls, for the enjoyment of the cows.

The animals were indifferent to the lusty films, and the scheme

cost the failing cheese factory a month's wages. By the end of the winter

only eleven Ala Tau cows and two bony Aleatinsky bulls remained.

Production had ceased.

Anarbek managed the only collective in the mountain village.

During the lean years of glasnost and perestroika, and the optimistic but still

lean years of independence, Anarbek had watched his veterinarian pack up

for Russia, the feed shipments dwindle, the wormwood climb the concrete

walls, the electricity fail, the plate coolers rust, the cows die, and his workers

use their lunch hour to hawk carrots and cabbage in the village bazaar. The

cheese factory no longer produced cheese. Yet every week in the factory's

old sauna, raising a glass of vodka, wearing only a towel wrapped around his

bulging stomach, Anarbek told his friends, "We're still making a profit."

He was well aware it was false money. Amid the collapse of

Communism, in the extended bureaucratic mess of privatization, the new

government continued to support the state-owned collective. A sudden

change in the village name had caused the oversight. With a burst of post-

independence pride, an official had decreed Soviet Kirovka henceforth be

called by its Kyrgyz name, Kyzyl Adyr. Now nobody knew what to call it

(Kyzyl Adyr? Kirovka? Kyzyl Adyr–Kirovka? Kirovka–Kyzyl Adyr?). The

capital could not keep up with such details. The village appeared by different

names on scattered government lists, and the factory had yet to be

privatized. The machinery had stopped, but the Communist salaries kept

coming.

Kyzyl Adyr–Kirovka was a cosmopolitan village isolated in the

mountains of northwestern Kyrgyzstan. Anarbek's neighbors were mostly fair-

skinned Kyrgyz, but also included Russians desperate to repatriate, and

Kurds, and Uzbeks, and the Koreans whose grandparents Stalin had exiled

to Central Asia. Everyone benefited from the government oversight. For

Anarbek was generous; he knew the money was neither rightfully his nor the

factory's, so he kept on his original thirteen workers, whose families

depended on their continuing salaries. The employees showed up at the

factory each morning, sat, chatted, and drank endless cups of chai.

Everyone in the village understood that the cows were barren and

dying and that the cheese factory produced no cheese. But what good would

come of reporting it? Money that did not find its way out of Bishkek would

sink into the pockets of the minister of finance, an official rumored to drive a

Mercedes-Benz at excessive speed through the streets of the capital,

weaving between potholes, honking at donkey carts, trying to run over the

poor. A Mercedes- Benz! While the people of Kyzyl Adyr–Kirovka suffered!

For the village, money mistakenly sent from the capital was money they

deserved. Anarbek, after all, was a modern, educated Soviet man— he had

studied management one summer in Moscow—and the village had

confidence he could still turn things around.

On a Wednesday evening, in the heat of the factory sauna, he

defended his fertility scheme to six of his neighbors and coworkers. The men

nodded in complicit agreement. Only Dushen, the assistant manager of the

cheese factory and a man too practical for his own good, broke the spell with

a question grounded in reality: "Maybe the quality of projection was bad?"

The men clicked their tongues and shook their wet heads; two of

them leaned over and spit onto the hot stones. The spit sizzled into thin

wisps of steam. Anarbek sighed. Independence should have been a time of

optimism, yet it seemed that brave ideas for improvement were consistently

ruined by such complications.

Radish, the head doctor of the village hospital, opened the sauna

door, and a stiff gust of air, fresh as a cool river, flowed into the room.

Entering, the doctor banged the door behind him, turned his bare jellylike

chest around, and announced, "News, my friends! News! The minister of

education, from Talas, came by this morning."

"That son of a bitch," said Bulut, the town's appointed mayor, its

akim.

"Screw the whole lot of them," said Dushen.

"Send them back to Moscow," Anarbek said. "Who needs them!"

He and his friends continued abusing government officials until

Radish yelled over them. "Listen. A word! A word! He has offered the village

an American."

"An American?" the men exclaimed in chorus, and burst into

laughter.

"An organization called Korpus Mira." The glint in the doctor's

eyes quieted Anarbek. "The government of Kyrgyzstan has ordered thirty

Americans. They'll distribute them across the country. To hospitals. Schools.

Factories like yours."

"What do they want from us?" Anarbek asked.

"How much do we have to pay them?" Dushen demanded.

"This is the thing," Radish explained. "They don't want any money.

It's a humanitarian organization."

The words humanitarian organization, pronounced in Radish's

halting Russian, sounded like fancy foreign machinery. Nobody in the village

had ever used words like those before.

"American spies!" yelled the town akim.

"Thieves," said Dushen. "They'll take us over."

The men shook their heads in doubt, but Anarbek was intrigued.

He mused on the inconceivable idea of America—of William Clinton and his

friend Al Gore, of the war in the Persian Gulf, of Steven Seagal breaking

necks, of the busty Madonna who sang "Like a Virgin"—this America, their

new provider. He stepped down to the rack of hot coals, grabbed a cup of

water, and, using the tips of his fingers, splashed the rocks over and over

until they hissed. A wave of steam swirled into a choking cloud and raised

the temperature in the cramped room. The men stepped down to the lower

wooden benches. Bent over, covered in sweat, they rubbed their legs and

shoulders, and two of them moaned pleasurably, "Ahy, ahy, ahy," at the heat.

In the center of the floor Anarbek crouched on his haunches next

to Radish. "Did you accept this American?"

"I cannot accept," the doctor explained, snapping his

undershorts. "We, our village—all of us must demonstrate our willingness to

receive this gift."

"Maybe," joked Dushen, "she will be a beautiful long-legged

blonde." He too squatted on the tar-stained floorboards and hawked a gob of

mucus between the wooden beams. "Like Sharon Stone."

"There's a thought," said the akim. "Or maybe it will be some

wealthy man who will marry one of our daughters and take her to America."

"Owa!" the men agreed, and some of them repeated, "America."

Radish said, "They want you to find a place to house the

American. When she gets here, she will work at the factory, teaching us

English. Think! The economic journals. Communication with businessmen.

From any country. From around the world. New machinery you can order.

New products." He was waving his arms and turning from man to man. "This

World Health Organization sends the hospital a new piece for the x-ray, and

we cannot even attach it. The instructions on those damn things come in

English!"

Anarbek leaned forward into the steam and belched. "I will find a

house for the American."

The head doctor smiled at his offer and nodded twice. "But that's

not all," he added. "We must appoint one of us in town to be the Kyrgyz host

family. They will—in a way—adopt her."

One by one the men lifted their chins, and the eyes of each, in

turn, settled on Anarbek. This was his factory, this was his sauna, they were

his guests; they were yielding to his decision. He stood up.

"I will be the father of the American," he said, and patted his wet,

hairy chest. The ripples of fat absorbed the blow in a slapping sound, a note

of confidence.

"An American," someone mumbled. The men leaned back, and for

the first time any of them could remember, there was silence in the sauna,

deep and pure. For two minutes nobody moved. Stomachs rose and fell in

the thinning steam.

Dushen spoke up. "Who could have imagined?"

"The world is changing," Anarbek said, thinking of his dying cows,

of faulty video equipment, and of fornicating pandas in China.

The next evening, in the shaded courtyard of his home—.anked by two long

buildings, the tea bed, the stone wall, and the high steel fence—Anarbek

fanned the flames of his grill, waiting for Lola. The coals had reached the

perfect temperature for the shashlyk: the ashes gleamed red when he waved

the sheet of cardboard at them.

"Lola!" he shouted. "Lola, they're ready!"

He could not get used to her delays. In twenty-one years of

marriage, Baiooz, his first wife, had mastered the art of anticipating his every

need. She had always been a step ahead of him. How many times had he

asked her to do something, and she had told him, with her feline smile, that it

had already been done? Anarbek fanned the coals again, this time more

violently, then stopped and swallowed. He still could not believe Baiooz was

dead.

"Lola!"

It was true what his friends said: no good can come from a

beautiful woman. He dropped the cardboard, lifted his heavy frame from a low

squat, and stomped toward the kitchen door. Just as he opened his mouth,

Lola appeared in the doorway, carrying the silver tray of marinated mutton

cubes, speared on metal skewers and covered in slivers of onions.

"Where were you?"

"I was slicing more tomatoes," Lola said. "I thought they were not

enough for you. I know how much you eat."

He looked at her face, her fresh soft lips: twenty-two years old,

less than half his age. An Indian scarf he had bought her covered her dark

hair. In the mornings she tied her hair up into a ball and covered it, like this,

but at night she brushed it out in long straight strokes. She was tall, as tall

as he was, and her lithe body seemed capable of great athleticism. She

always smelled of exotic fruit— her shampoo, her soap, perhaps. He hardly

knew her.

"The grill's ready. The coals are red. We have to cook now, before

we lose the heat."

She answered him with her haughty silence but brought the tray of

skewers over to the tea bed. Their floppy-eared mutt, Sharyk, rose from his

guard position next to the gate and scuttled toward the meat. Lola bent and

smacked him on the behind. "Git!" The dog sprawled out, his head between

his paws.

"Make sure he doesn't eat these," she warned.

Even in warning her voice was soft, so much softer than Baiooz's

had been. But he missed his first wife's flutter of activity—her noise, her

endless haranguing, her stubbornness. Lola listened to everything he said,

did everything he demanded. What kind of wife was that?

He placed the first six skewers on the grill, one by one, reminding

himself how well Lola took care of Baktigul, his younger daughter. That was

the important thing. And he was lucky to have a wife so soon. He leaned over

the grill and closed his eyes in the smoke, shaking his head. As hard as he

tried, six months into the marriage he could not reconcile this life with the

last.

Lola was his older daughter's best friend. She and Nazira had

grown up together. Anarbek could remember the two girls at Nazira's eight-

year name-day celebration. The family had picnicked on kielbasa and melons

near the Kirovka River, cooling the fruit in the glacial water. He remembered

one May Day festival when he had bought them both ice cream and had paid

the village photographer to take their picture in the square by the statue of

Lenin. They still had that photo: the two girls in flowery cotton dresses, ice

cream running down their arms, Lenin's hand extended above them saluting

the mountains. Anarbek remembered a later summer, when he had worked at

the Kara Boora region's Young Pioneer Camp, in the foothills halfway to

Talas. He had taught the girls how to ride horses. Nazira had climbed on

readily, but Lola, at that time so short, so timid, could not get onto her horse.

He had helped her, lifting her from behind, and she felt no heavier than a

housecat.

He opened his eyes and turned the shashlyk.

When Baiooz had died last year, just after independence, the

village mourned with him. But how long could a man with an eightyear- old

daughter manage alone without a wife? By October a feverish search began

for someone to replace her. With the news of her mother's death Nazira

returned from university in Naryn and took over the management of the

house, displaying a maturity and expertise beyond her twenty years. She

looked after Baktigul and did much to console Anarbek, but he had remained

unsettled. He felt an urgency to give his daughter her own life. She must

marry soon enough; she could not take care of them forever.

Six months after Baiooz's death, Nazira herself had proposed the

solution: Anarbek should marry her oldest friend. Lola was twenty-one and

had never left Kyzyl Adyr–Kirovka; she was waiting to become a wife and

mother. In an emotional plea, Nazira convinced Lola. They were almost

related anyway, and what could be better than marrying the wealthiest man

in the village? When Nazira informed Anarbek that Lola was willing, he was

shocked. He could hardly tolerate his own daughter playing his matchmaker.

He refused and, two weeks later, refused again more forcefully. By

November, though, his loneliness, combined with Lola's youthful beauty and

Nazira's stubborn insistence, changed his mind.

"Why don't you steal her?" Nazira had asked playfully.

He had considered. Once their nomadic ancestors—the ancient

Kyrgyz horsemen—had rampaged villages and stolen women. If the bride

spent a night in a captor's yurt, she belonged to him and could not return to

her home. After the fall of Communism and with the rise of Kyrgyz

nationalism, the tradition of wife stealing was resurfacing.

"But those are old traditions," he had finally told his

daughter. "We're a modern nation now. We did away with those ideas

seventy years ago."

"It's not a silly tradition," argued Nazira. "It's our heritage. Many

people are doing it. Also, Ata, it's romantic."

So Anarbek had followed his daughter's advice. One wintry

afternoon he spotted Lola walking back from the bazaar, carrying two

kilograms of potatoes in a plastic sack. He pulled up to her in his tan Lada

and cut the loud engine. She wore a long brown skirt that hugged her slim

waist and a striped polyester blouse that showed off her broad shoulders.

Without a word he grabbed her elbow and pulled her into the back seat of the

car. She struggled. It occurred to him to let her go, but he reminded himself

she was supposed to fight, that this was a sign of her honor. Before he

slammed the door, he heard her gasp. His heart sank. But when he climbed

into the front seat, he was uplifted by her muffled giggles, by the way she

folded her arms across her chest and stared with calm resignation out the

window. He promised himself he would treat her well. He brought her back

along the dirt road, half a kilometer, to the house, avoiding the potholes

hidden in the mud, driving as slowly as possible, as if the young woman were

a delicate tea set he might break with a bump. At home he led her to the

bedroom, where Nazira had prepared a meal of manti, a bottle of champagne,

and the silk platok.

Lola wore the scarf and spent the night. From then on she

belonged to Anarbek: his captured virgin bride, his prize, his consolation. He

offered her family a two-thousand-dollar kalym—his ten-year savings—more

than enough to uphold his reputation in the village.

Anarbek had nearly burned the last round of skewered shashlyk.

His dog sniffed at his side and cried two plaintive notes. The smell of the

grilling meat swirled around the courtyard, over the fence, and up above the

village, where it mixed with the evening scent of burning dung and alpine

poppies. Anarbek lifted the skewers, examined both sides, and held them

close to his face, savoring the smell and color of the mutton. He realized Lola

had not brought the bottle of vinegar and pepper, and he roared for her once

again. Before she appeared, he turned, and there, on the tea bed, next to the

plate of onions, the vinegar was already waiting for him. He laughed at

himself.

"What do you need?" Lola asked from the doorway.

"Come, it's time to eat. Get Baktigul."

"Shouldn't we wait for Nazira?"

"The shashlyk's ready. Get Baktigul."

He tossed two burnt cubes of meat to the dog, who gulped them

down in a single swallow and wagged his tail. Lola fetched his daughter from

the street. Baktigul appeared with her ponytails swinging, a young friend in

tow. The four of them sat cross-legged on the platform, tore off pieces of

Lola's fresh flatbread, and alternated bites with chunks of mutton, onions,

and grilled tomatoes. Here, Anarbek assured himself, was the picture of a

contented household. The man feeds his family, the wife prepares delicious

bread, the daughter comes to eat with her little friend, honoring the house

with a guest. Elusive happiness lay in such simplicity. Life would take care of

him; it would take care of them all. He watched his young daughter tear with

her teeth through a strand of sinew, and he lifted his chest with pride.

But before they had finished dinner, the two girls at the table cried

out and gave startled jumps. Nazira, his older daughter, burst through the

gate and slammed it shut behind her. The metal clanged. Nazira's chest was

heaving, and her hair, usually straight and shining, was a tangled, dusty

mess. On her face—the face of his first wife—dirt stains shadowed the bright

red flush of exertion. Her skirt was torn. She stumbled two steps into the

courtyard, the dog bounded to meet her, but then she collapsed to a crouch,

her head bent. Anarbek dropped his skewer of meat, but Lola was already up

and off the bed, running to her old friend.

"Nazira," she whispered. "Come in. Come, sit. Nazira, dear."

Lola kissed her forehead, but Nazira's shoulders arched in

spasms as she wept. In two steps Anarbek was standing over her and lifting

her by the shoulder. With Lola's help he walked her to the tea bed. Baktigul

gasped again. "Don't cry, Nazira," she said.

Anarbek handed each of the young girls another skewer of meat

and ordered them to play in the street.

"What's wrong with Nazira?" Baktigul demanded.

"Quiet now," he said. "Leave us for a little. I'll come and find you in

a few minutes."

He started to tell Lola to bring some chai, but she had already

returned with it, and was pouring. "Drink, Nazira," he said. "Be still, kizim.

You're okay, aren't you?"

Lola rubbed Nazira's neck, and they sat in silence for a few

moments while Nazira composed herself. Her sobs abated, then rose and fell

again. She pulled her hair behind her ears. Lola wet a cloth under the

samovar and wiped the dirt from Nazira's cheeks.

"I was returning for lunch this morning, after classes," Nazira

began, and then broke into tears again. She taught English at the Lenin

School. She was a steadfast teacher; it hardly bothered her that the students

immediately forgot what she taught them, or that they were the sons and

daughters of shepherds and would never have use for a foreign language.

Nazira was famous around the village for her lovely voice, and her English

classes eagerly followed her in daily song: "May There Always Be Sunshine"

or "I Can Clap My Hands, Thank You!"

She collected her breath. "I was walking just past the flour store.

A car pulled up. There were three men inside. Big men. I have never seen

them before, Ata. They ran out of the vehicle and grabbed my arms. There

was nobody around to help. They got me into their car."

She fought back another round of tears and nearly gagged.

Anarbek waited for her to compose herself. When he could no longer wait, he

tried to soothe her with a soft question, but instead his words rushed out in

uncontrollable anger. "Where! Where did they take you?"

Over her sobs Nazira explained that they had driven all the way to

Talas. In a concrete microregion, in a dark, cold apartment, they forced her

into a bedroom. There the mother of one of the men brought her bread and

strawberry jam, which she refused to eat, and tea, which she refused to

drink. The woman even opened a bottle of vodka, poured two glasses, and

raised a toast.

"To my beautiful new daughter. My son could not have found a

wife more worthy." The mother had then reached over and tried to wrap a

beige platok around her head.

Nazira fought her off, ripped the scarf from the lady's hands,

crumpled it, and tossed it into the corner of the room. In a soft voice the

mother tried to assuage her fears. "It's an honor, my daughter. You were so

pretty; you were the one he chose." She showed her cracked photographs of

the family that would be hers: her new brothers and sisters, an aging wrinkled

grandmother, her mustached father.

"They all had the eyes of a wolf, every one of them," Nazira

explained. "The entire family held one single expression: a sneer."

She told the woman she would never be her son's bride, no matter

what tradition dictated. After that she refused to speak. The mother grew

angrier, drank the vodka alone. For a half-hour she raged at Nazira's silence

and rained abuses on her.

"Finally she lifted herself from the floor. I wouldn't look her in the

eyes. I was staring at the bottom of her dress. She called me the worst kind

of donkey. 'Aren't you ashamed?' she said. 'Aren't you a real Kyrgyz

woman?' She slapped me here, across the face. When she left, I thought I

was free. But it was only starting."

The dark room filled with women: relatives, friends, neighbors, and

young girls all brought in to console her. They urged her not to revolt too

much. "Don't deny your destiny," one old woman said. "You should accept it.

You should try to find joy in it." Another said, "It happened to me too. You

may not love him now, but you will learn to love him." One of the sisters

urged her, "You are here already. You have crossed the threshold of this

house. If you leave, you will never find another husband. Don't shame

yourself."

Nazira asked only one question: "Atam kaida?" Where is my

father? She knew they had to bring him to negotiate.

"Write him your letter. We will bring him here to name your price."

And she understood: writing the customary letter would be an

admission of complicity. She was trapped. She tried to steady herself, but

the tears rose. As the ladies stood to leave, the mother leaned toward her

and in a voice as harsh as the breaking of glass, quoted the old saying, "A

woman who comes crying into her future husband's house will lead a happy

life."

The room had emptied. Nazira took in a long breath, but then the

man entered. He was the largest of the three who had pulled her into the car,

and he was dressed in the formal clothes he had worn for the abduction: a

gray wool sweater, pressed gray slacks. He had combed his brown hair so it

reached across his forehead in waves and had doused himself in barbershop

witch hazel. The smell choked Nazira each time he leaned close, and in that

sealed space it made it hard for her to breathe. The man sat directly across

from her on a purple and red tushuk and poured two overflowing glasses of

vodka.

He told her how he had seen her three weeks before, when she

had brought a class into Talas for the middle-school English Olympiad. He

spoke with a husky voice, full of confidence and menace, even more

frightening when he lowered it to a whisper. He said, "You were walking

across the street from School Four, and I had every intention of stealing you

then. I would have, but I did not know what to do about your students. Instead

I stopped one of your boys from the fourth form. I asked him your name,

where you were from. The boy told me all about you, and he asked if I loved

you. He must have seen it in my eyes. Even a fourth-form boy! I told your

student, 'You see that mountain? The tallest one? I think she is more

beautiful than that mountain.'"

He rambled on like this for an hour, professing his love.

"Nonsense," Nazira explained. "He was talking complete

nonsense."

"Okay now," Lola whispered.

"Go on," Anarbek demanded.

He said his name was Traktorbek, and that he had been named

after his grandfather, who had been named after the tractor (a machine of

wonder the Russians had brought to Kyrgyzstan in 1948). He told her how he

had given up school to sell meat in the bazaar. He told her how many men he

had beaten up in the past year. He told her how much cognac he could drink

in one sitting, how women who came to buy his mutton fell in love with him

and he gave them discounts. He had not planned to marry so young, he said.

He had wanted to make his fortune first, then find an apartment in the

capital—he had been there once—where he had dreams of opening a gas

station. But he had seen Nazira, and his plans had changed.

All the time he spoke, he was drinking. Nazira hardly listened.

She asked herself how she was going to escape, and if it were possible, and

if she did, what people would say about her.

Traktorbek then squatted beside her and pulled over two thick

mats. Before she knew what was happening, he grabbed her face with his

callused palms. He was kissing her, pushing her down.

Anarbek listened now with pain. He looked up through the rustling

leaves of the courtyard at the darkening sky and then back down. He fingered

a piece of meat, lifted it to his mouth, then threw it onto his plate. His wife

looked away. Neither could face Nazira.

"I kicked him so hard between his legs that he shouted," she

said. "I've never heard a man yell so loud." She laughed at the memory, but

the laugh brought on a fresh round of tears. "Then he hurt me," she

murmured. Her head sank. "After, I pushed my way out of the room, through

the mother and the father. All the other people were there, as if it were some

kind of holiday mayram. There was music, and they were clapping and

dancing in the sitting room. They were calling my name and saying the worst

kinds of things. But I grabbed a pair of shoes at the door, and I've never run

so fast. I asked my legs to carry me like the wind. I was barefoot, and I ran

out of the microregion and into the park by the Ferris wheel, across from the

cinema. I hid behind the memorial statue and put on the shoes. They weren't

mine. They were the mother's high heels! Too small for me. I stumbled to

Prospect Chui—but look at me!—I must have looked sick. No cars would

stop. I was afraid to stay on the main road. I went off to the stadium and

hiked five kilometers along the river, through the Talas forest, all the way to

the otovakzal. A truck was parked between the buses, and the driver was

heading past the village. I begged him to take me home."

Anarbek sucked in a deep breath, astonished at her

courage. "You were stolen. You were stolen and you ran away." He was

trying to assess the extent of the damage—what, in these times, her escape

actually meant. He unfolded his legs and refolded them. In his chest a rough

pride swelled at his daughter's hardheadedness, but then a sharp dread

pierced his stomach.

Lola had misunderstood him. "How can you say such a thing?"

she burst out. "Look at her. Think of what she has been through."

"Soon the village will know," he said. "The bad tongue will begin.

This man, he was not the kind you could have married?" Both women stared

at him with open mouths. He was trying to think practically. If Baiooz had

been here, she would have known what to say, what to do for their daughter.

Now he imagined the excuses he would have to give in the sauna, the rumors

that would consume the town, the impossibility of Nazira's finding a husband.

He knew by custom that he was not supposed to accept his

stolen daughter back into his home—it was his duty not to. She had crossed

the threshold, and now she was spoiled. Still, they lived in a modern world;

these traditions hardly mattered anymore.

He stared at the table. He could eat nothing else. For minutes

they sat in silence and swirled their cups of chai. Above the courtyard the

branches of the plum tree swayed. Shouts flew over the high fence, sounds of

the children playing on the street.

A sudden pounding on the metal gate—too rough to be Baktigul —

startled them. Nazira half stood, then glanced at him, panic in her eyes.

Anarbek raised himself off the tea bed. He strode to the gate and

behind him heard Lola say they should go inside. The metal hinges creaked

with a high-pitched screech, like the call of a buzzard. Framed in the light

blue gateway was the very picture of shattered youth. The young man had

thin piercing eyes, and his wavy hair was disheveled. But he was wide-

backed and powerful, with a wrestler's build so thick, his shoulders stretched

the sleeves of his striped gray sweater. He did not bother with the customary

formalities: no salamatsizbih, no asalaam aleikum, no ishter kondai.

"Where is she?" he demanded, and staggered forward.

Anarbek's ingrained sense of hospitality told him a visitor must be

invited into the home, seated comfortably, offered bread and tea, and fed a

meal before he was questioned. Now, for the first time in his life, he stopped

a stranger at the door. He stretched a tremulous arm to block the entrance.

"You are not welcome in this home," he said. The impropriety

disturbed him. He was certain no good would come of breaking tradition. Yet

Nazira must not see the man again.

"I know she has come here," Traktorbek said. "The children told

me." He pointed down the dirt lane where his Lada was parked. Next to it

Baktigul and her friends were gathered in a circle, chattering around a boy on

a fallen bicycle.

"Nazira is here. This is her home. What would you like?"

"I would see her, agai."

"It seems you have already seen her. She would not see you."

Traktorbek searched past him into the courtyard. Anarbek shifted

to his left, and from pale desperation the youth's face turned to red anger.

The muscles in his neck flexed, and he stared up into Anarbek's eyes, only

then comprehending his entrance was blocked. For a long moment they

stood face to face.

"It is your obligation to return her to me. Your duty, and your

family's duty. You know the ways."

"These are old ways, Traktorbek."

The young man started at the sound of his own name. He

collected himself with new energy and glared, his eyes calculating. Nazira

had been right: the face—the eyes—held the menacing sneer of a wolf. "Do

you know anything about honor?" he demanded. "Do you think of your

family's name? Do you think of your factory's name?" His choppy voice grew

louder, and Anarbek could smell the vodka on it. "I will see her. I have made

my decision. She will come back with me. She has spoken with my mother.

Arrangements have been made."

"Arrangements will be forgotten." Anarbek fought to keep his voice

calm. Like this young man he too was prone to passion. He knew how

quickly, how often, he lost control of himself. But passion would not quiet

passion. He was guarding his home from an invading presence, but the

invasion felt larger and more pervasive than this simple lovesick youth

standing before him.

"I do not have to tell you again," Anarbek said. "You must leave

her alone now. She will not be your wife. She's made it clear. She will not

have it."

"She! She is a woman!"

"I will not have it either. I have other plans for Nazira." The word

America flashed like lightning across Anarbek's mind. He had no idea where

it came from. Quickly he refocused.

Traktorbek's body had stiffened. "You are obligated, yet you won't

give me back your daughter." He clenched and shook his fists. He reminded

Anarbek of the costs of this decision, of the shame he was bringing on

himself, and ended with a volley of grave threats, vowing revenge.

To his own surprise Anarbek remained calm. "Leave now," he

said, stepping back from the gate and pulling the door. The young man

clutched the swinging metal with his fingertips and cried out, "If you shut this

gate on me, you can't know what it means to be in love!"

The outpouring drew an unexpected feeling from Anarbek. He

nearly liked the boy for it. He respected the fervor of youth, its steely nerve,

its determined siege before a closing gate. How men suffer in the name of

women! Yet this Traktorbek was too young, too brash. He refused to face

reality, and Anarbek could not approve of the animal violence he exuded. He

would never have done for a husband; Anarbek could see that now.

"Son," he said, "you don't know what it means to be a father."

He pulled the gate harder, and the final image of rejected youth

was trans.gured into complete despair. Traktorbek's fingers slipped from the

door. The gate clicked, and in a single massive blow the full force of the

young man's body crashed outside, rattling the metal. Anarbek stood still.

He waited for the slow shuffling of feet, the quieting of the children, and the

angry growl of the car engine.

In the kitchen Lola and Nazira were seated on low stools. His wife

was kneading dough for tomorrow's leposhka on the flat wooden table. As he

entered, both women straightened up and watched him, unblinking. From the

sink, rinsing his hands, he glanced back at his daughter. Conjuring the image

of his dead wife, he prayed inwardly, "Baiooz, tell me I have done what is

right."

He turned and reached for a towel. Their faces were set, awaiting

his decision.

"You'll come with us tomorrow," he said into the sink, drying his

hands. "Two days from now the Korpus Mira inspects the house I've found for

the American. We must beat out the rugs and hang the curtains."

Copyright © 2004 by Robert Rosenberg. Reprinted by permission of

Houghton Mifflin Company.

Product Details

ISBN:
9780618386017
Author:
Rosenberg, Robert
Publisher:
Houghton Mifflin
Location:
Boston
Subject:
Literary
Subject:
Americans
Subject:
Loss (psychology)
Subject:
Psychological fiction
Subject:
Love stories
Subject:
Literature-A to Z
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Trade Cloth
Publication Date:
June 2004
Binding:
Paperback
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Pages:
304
Dimensions:
9 x 6 x 0.75 in 1.26 lb

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Related Subjects

Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z

This Is Not Civilization New Hardcover
0 stars - 0 reviews
$22.25 Backorder
Product details 304 pages Houghton Mifflin Company - English 9780618386017 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "Ah, the happy days of the 1990s, when Americans could travel abroad fearing only natural disasters and imperfect plumbing. This rollicking first novel brings readers to some unusual locales-post-Soviet Kyrgyzstan, an Apache reservation, earthquake-shattered Istanbul-to tell the story of Jeff Hartig, a young man who travels the world but can't leave behind his own shortcomings. After an unhappy time running a teen center in the Apache town of Red Cliff, Ariz., recent college graduate Jeff hitches up with the Peace Corps, landing at an even more remote destination-the Kyrgyz village of Kyzyl Adyr-Kirovka, deep in the steppes of Central Asia. The village's one asset is a defunct cheese factory funded by government subsidies, run by the ebullient, generous Anarbek Tashtanaliev, who takes it upon himself to help Jeff experience the overwhelming wonders of Kyrgyz hospitality. Anarbek also has a beautiful, English-speaking daughter named Nazira, who understands more clearly than her fellow villagers how little one American visitor can accomplish for them. Ashamed of his own ineffectualness, Jeff flees Kyrgyzstan, leaving behind one lasting impression-a pregnant Nazira. He next alights in Istanbul, where he settles once again into expatriate life, until Anarbek, Nazira and his young Apache friend Adam appear, asking Jeff to make good on all his promises of assistance. Then the 1999 earthquake hits, in a harrowing sequence that envelops the entire mismatched group and plunges Istanbul straight back into the uncivilized world. Rosenberg's ability to illustrate these oddball settings-based on his own time in the Peace Corps and elsewhere-is pitch perfect, a vibrant mix of the serious and the absurd. With Jeff, he puts a brilliant new spin on a compelling type: the Well-Meaning American." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review A Day" by , "[W]hat a generous, big-hearted book this is, perceptive enough to catch the goodness in all these well-intentioned people. Each of them endures the sting of inadequacy, but they're all tethered to a sense of compassion that snaps them back from despair. Yes, the incurably charitable are hungering for their own salvation in the act of feeding others, but that cynical insight, Rosenberg argues, mustn't lead us to scorn the whole enterprise. In an era that gave us the term 'compassion fatigue,' his novel is a gentle rousing by someone who understands the complicated rewards of caring." (read the entire Christian Science Monitor review)
"Review" by , "The details are bracing and exact....[J]ournalistic, humane and heart-wrenching."
"Review" by , "A wonderful work; highly recommended."
"Review" by , "[A]n intelligent, earnest, and highly readable first novel."
"Synopsis" by ,
In the tradition of Prague and White Teeth, This Is Not Civilization is an inspired, sweeping debut novel that hopscotches from Arizona to Central Asia to Istanbul with a well-meaning, if misguided, young Peace Corps volunteer. Jeff Hartig lies at the center of this modern take on the American-abroad tale, which brings together four people from vastly different backgrounds, each struggling with the push and pull of home. A young Apache, Adam Dale, forsakes the reservation for the promise of a world he knows little about. Anarbek Tashtanaliev, of post-Soviet Kyrgyzstan, operates a cheese factory that no longer produces cheese. Nazira, his daughter, strains against the confines of their villages age-old traditions.

With captivating insight, realism, and humor, Robert Rosenberg delivers a sensitive story about the cost of trying to do good in the world.

"Synopsis" by , Rosenberg's ambitious and addictive first novel brings to life a culturally diverse group of well-meaning characters whose ambitions exceed their grasp.

Anarbek Tashtanaliev runs a Soviet cheese factory that produces no cheese, and his favorite daughter has been stolen in an ancient courting ritual. But the United States sends to his Kyrgyz village what he hopes will be the solution to all his problems: an American Peace Corps volunteer. Jeff Hartig has just left an Apache reservation where he failed to keep a teen center up and running. Saddened but still hopeful that he can effect positive change, Jeff arrives in Central Asia ill prepared for Anarbek's fervent ambitions and the aggressively hospitable local culture. He finds himself teaching English to milkmaids and entangled in Anarbek's corrupt business schemes, again left to wonder what difference he can make to a culture struggling to survive.

A few years later Anarbek, his daughter, Jeff, and Adam, an Apache from the reservation where Jeff worked, converge in Istanbul, and their fortunes become interwoven. The four share an apartment in the magical, sprawling city. Each on the run from the past, together they form a patchwork expatriate family, unaware that they will soon face one of the most disastrous earthquakes in history.

Exotic, romantic, and deeply moving, this novel brilliantly explores America's relationship to indigenous peoples, the need to find morality amid corruption, and the connection between people and their homeland. It is also a touching love story about those caught between age-old tradition and the dangerous allure of the contemporary world.

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