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The Dancer from Khiva: One Muslim Woman's Quest for Freedom Paperback – Aug 5 2008
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About the Author
Born in Yorkshire, England, Andrew Bromfield is a translator of Russian literature and an editor and co-founder of the literary journalGlas.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
She recounts the events of her life with a matter-of-factness that seems to stem from a mixture of naivete, ignorance, and learned helplessness. A lot of horrible things happened to her, and evidence of the trauma showed up later in life. She grew into an emotionally immature, volatile, stubbornly determined woman who wanted to succeed but seemed unable to learn from her mistakes.
I came away feeling bad for her, as much for her ignorance and bad choices as for her misfortunes. This woman does not and will not have a happy life. I did not come away feeling that she'd ever find freedom--from her circumstances or from herself. I don't know how much of her voice is genuine and how much it is colored by the interpretation and editing; perhaps there's a narrative of hope and beauty in there somewhere but it did not make it onto the pages.
And the dancing? She speaks of it as an important part of her identity, yet it forms only a very small part of her life experience, and the few times she does get to dance as an adult are treated as merely asides to the story. "And then I moved to Russia, and got a stall at the market, and got all these things to sell, and one time I danced at a wedding party, and then I was cheated by my customers, and my landlord was drunk and threatening me, and the plumbing was broken, and I lost all our money, and my family was mad and yelled at me, and and and..." (oh yes, and the story was told with very simple language--perhaps reflecting her level of sophistication in speaking and vocabulary...but simple and naive can be charming for only so long before it gets tiresome.)
I can understand if she had very few opportunities to practice her art, but if dance was such an important part of her identity and story as to make it into the title, then translator and editors should have made it a central theme in the narrative. On the other hand, it may be that another reviewer was right, and they may have just highlighted that aspect of her life in the title just to increase sales. Either way, I think her story was done a disservice.
It is a sobering, thought-provoking, and informative view into a world that most Westerners are unlikely to experience. I am glad I read it and would recommend it to others. I'd recommend it as a memoir of poverty, however--not as a story of dance, or hope, or freedom.
Although many of the things that happen to her are horrific, there are other, more light hearted aspects of the novel too. When Bibish moves to Russia and sets up a stall in the marketplace, she hasn't quite got the hang of the Russian language and makes some fairly inappropriate, and hilarious, gaffes while trying to talk to customers. The tone of the book is very conversational, almost a cross between a journal and a long talk with a close friend. It's both sad and uplifting, and a clear and personal portrait of one woman's struggle to survive oppression and poverty with her spirit intact.
It's a fascinating snapshot of life in the 'Stans and the racist reality of post Soviet Russia, but it needs better editing.
At some points in this book I wanted to cry, and then at some points I was laughing so hard I did cry. She is a very spirited woman, but I just wish that she would stand up for herself a little more. She doesn't dwell on the bad things. She tells it like it is and then moves on. I'm left with the impression that she plans to write a sequal and thats why the ending was a bit abrupt.
Bibish describes her early life in a village near Khiva - her successful school career and her flair for dancing, but also her poor home,widespread disapproval of her dancing and two sexual assaults which she couldn't talk of .
We follow her 'escape' to Russia, her marriage and children and the awful difficulties of getting somewhere to live and to make a living as a market trader. As another reviewer observed, there isn't too much dancing, and as for her Islamic religion, Bibish never mentions it except in the constraints it put on her young life - does she abandon it completely later?
Actually Russia sounded so grim that I kept on wondering why she didn't go back home.
Certainly a harsh life, but not particularly gripping writing.