In my many years of translation work, an important place is taken by the work of my long-time friend, the undeniably gifted writer Zholtai Zhumat. Over a few years, I have had the pleasure of translating many of his short stories and novels, which were then issued in Russian in separate collections and books.
“The Call of Freedom” (2001), “Torments of the Soul” (2007), “Eternal Elegy” (2014) … I want to emphasise that his stories are not like the works of other authors and surprise with their density of action and events, revealing the mystery and secrets of today’s life.
Recently, Zhumat has begun to master one of the most difficult genres of literature – drama. About 10 plays have come from his pen already. Almost all of them found their way to theatres in the country. Performances staged in many regional theatres were warmly received by audiences and drew the attention of theatre professionals and critics.
Zhumat’s plays “Tіrі Zhan” (“Living Soul”), “Zhanym – Zhalgyz” (“Loneliness of the Soul”), “Abaqty Gumyr” (“Life-Prison”), “Sana Dertі” (“Affliction of Consciousness”) and “Suyu Sertі” (“Oath of Love”) are fine works, in which the drama of the past is traced through the eyes of today’s writer and examined.
All the qualities inherent in a person – cleanliness, betrayal, conscience, justice, violence, humanity – face each other in “Suyu Sertі” and “Baiterek Basyndagy Kezdesu” (“Meeting at the Top of Baiterek), and become part of the effort to understand this confusing life. According to State Prize of Kazakhstan laureate and Tarlan award-winner Dulat Issabekov, “Baiterek Basyndagy Kezdesu” is a work in which the author tries to fully evaluate the events of the past dramatic years from a specific human height. The ability to show yesterday’s villainy and abuse not only in black colours, but also consider the bitter truth with a watchful eye, to give cool-headed assessment to the same villainy and treachery; in a word, to reveal the anatomy of hatred, are the qualities writers today need. These are clearly evident in this play by Zhumat. This, of course, is the result of the playwright’s search, his growth, his ability to look at the truth of life from the perspective of different heights.
“Zholtai Zhumat is a writer [and] thinker who maturely and preparedly fit himself into into the national prose and drama … Reading through his work, we always feel deeply and significantly the life and wide open spaces of a writer who is skilfully and convincingly developing his thought and idea,” Ashirbek Sygai, honoured worker of Kazakhstan, State Prize laureate, professor and theatre critic has said about Zhumat.
The choice of drama, the selection of topics and the structuring of events in Zhumat’s work is really interesting. He provides a perspective before transferring to the language of drama issues related to the life of Kazakhs, with well-chosen settings that give his plays their scenic appeal. Sometimes it seems that Zhumat feels nature with all his heart. For example, in “Suyu Sertі” he describes the most difficult period in the life of the Kazakh people, when during the last few decades of the last century their livestock was confiscated. The poetic and dramatic dialogue in “Abaqty Gumyr” reveals the souls of the three great representatives of the nation: the outstanding personalities Sultanbek, Magzhan and Nazir.
Zhumat’s dramatic works in recent years have been increasingly staged in theatres. Kyzylorda, Zhetysai and Turkestan audiences had an opportunity to evaluate the plays “Suyu Sertі,” “Abaqty Gumyr,” “Ai Astyndagy Altyn Shaһar,” and “Sana Dertі.” About 2,000 drama fans warmly applauded the performance of “Baiterek Basyndagy Kezdesu” at Astana’s Congress Hall by the artists of the Kuanyshbayev Music and Drama Theatre.
Zhumat’s “Munmen Alysqan Adam” (“Eternal Nostalgia”) has been staged in the Kazakh language in many theatres in the country, particularly in Kostanai and Semey, and has been very successful.
“Munmen Alysqan Adam” tells the story of an elderly Kazakh man named Assan, who lives in France. He and his parents moved there in the 1930s. Assan grew up there, had a family and raised children. He lives in a suburb of Paris, but over the years he has begun to reassess his values, and the memories of his ancestral land increasingly haunt him. His pain can only be soothed by travelling to his homeland. Assan wants to return home and spend his last days there.
He asks his sons Marat and Yelzhan to implement his wish, and questions of understanding and conflict between fathers and sons are raised. Equally important are questions of memory: Will his motherland be the way Assan imagined it? The plot keeps the audience in suspense, hanging on the actors’ words.
The English-language premiere of this play was staged at the Shanyrak student theatre in the Gumilev Eurasian National University (ENU) this summer. The play was translated into English by young translator Aizhan Bolatkyzy and staged by young director Zhambyl Tlepov. Characters were played by ENU students Daur Nurbolatov, Amanbek Magzumhan, Anar Izet, Dina Zhanabekkyzy and others.
The audience warmly welcomed the performance, and now more are planned for the student theatres of the country’s leading universities. There are also plans to stage the play outside the country. Zhumat’s works are welcomed anew each year by readers and theatre critics.
The author is a literary interpreter.