“We Never Knew the War” by Dulat Issabekov

A review by Semra Eren-Nijhar*

There are some books when you read them which you like, some books when you read them which make you think and some books when you read the which leave you exhausted, touched and continue to occupy your only mind at all times not only at the time of reading but even after you’ve finished reading them. As Oscar wild said “If one cannot enjoy reading a book over again, there is no use in reading it at all” and certainly Dulat Issabekov book’s “We Never Knew The War” is one of those books, which you want to read over and, over again.

As soon as I began to turn pages of the book the words captured and engulfed me, the catapulting me into the world of Ongarzhan and I began seeing everything through the eyes young boy. There was not even a moment or second when I felt able to escape his world, his mind, and his observations. Everything surrounding his village, the people, their lives and their environment became part of my world.

The lives of young and old, women and men in the village have been described exceptionally well enabling the reader to connect and link across into their world. Their world is children surrounded with poverty, hunger and war. A war which separated fathers from their children, husbands from their wives, friends from their mates and lovers from their future. A war which destroys everything any human being can imagine. The words have been chosen marvelously well by Issabekov, each one allowing the sentences to come alive and portray the unbearable realism and describes shattered lives as a result of the war.

The story touches the reader’s emotions and continues until the last word on the final page. Each individual’s life is a different story which is connected to one another and combines everyone’s lives in the village. Reading lssabekov’s book is like embroidering on a canvas; one cannot get away from the book as the beauty of the canvas encapsulates you.

Issabekov describes the war and its effects on people from various dimensions. The grief of lost ones and the pain of the people being alive are very surreal and leads the reader to think and question life and our existence. This comes to life in the book through the character of Orynsha who embodies everyone’s thinking through her actions.

As the feelings of fear, anger, disappointment, protest, death, pain and loss as a consequence the war engulf the reader on one side, on the other the feelings of love, care, respect and most importantly; hope is continuously present. The community spirit and the love of the people in the village for one other even in a time when war and poverty shows its merciless face is remarkable, and touches the readers deepest emotions.

No words are enough to describe Dulat Issabekov’s “We never knew the War”, but I can say without a doubt that it is one of the best books. I have in for a long time. It is a hook especially for now with the 100th Commemoration of WWI, which carries with it meaning and does a wonderful duty. No long speech is needed to describe the overwhelmingly horrible effects or war, reading this book will do much to transmit the horror of war and question its motives and the motivators, alike.

Credit must be given to the translator Katherine Judelson who translated the book into English remarkably well. Without her carefully chosen words, non-Kazakh speakers would not have had the fortune to read this heart winning marvelous story by Issabekov. I hope more books will be published by the Academy Aitmatov in the near future.

I am in indebted to Dulat Issabekov for bringing us this wonderful gift in the farm of his book. It will be cherished by future generations to come just as we do today in 2015.

*Semra is an author, sociologist, documentary film maker and policy consultant on diversity, migration. Ethnic Minorities living in Europe and the Executive Director of SUNCUT