The young Kazakh author Malika Athey is an extraordinarily creative person endowed with various talents, including love for the beautiful and high, as well as the art of deep and peculiar thinking and reasoning. She was published in the newspaper from the age of 15, and later worked as the editor-in-chief at MINI magazine and fashion websites. In 2019, she was shortlisted for the Pushkin Lyceum Prize awarded to young prose writers and poets, becoming the only foreign finalist for the book ‘I never’.
The annotation to the mentioned above book says, “In a patriarchal city, where you need to protect your virginity, but not remain an old maid, Kora opens a lingerie atelier. She thinks she can say what she wants, have relations with whomever she wants, and take revenge on those she doesn’t like, but soon the condemnation of society will destroy her little free world.”
From this, one can immediately see the issues such as the conflict of the main character with society, prejudices, stereotypes, traditions, and finally, herself, raised by the author in the light of the country, in this case, Kazakhstan, and her feminine view of them.
To add, the back cover of the book says, “It seems to a modern person that there is nothing in common between their fate and the fate of those who lived in the Middle Ages - either earlier or later - that having a pension and a washing machine makes us gods, that we are no longer subject to the old cruel laws...”
‘I never’ is a book, which tells about the place and role of a woman in the contemporary world, and this is not a love novel, but a kind of psychological analysis of the heroine who is trying to find her place in this world, where she is not given the opportunity to choose. And of course, this book is about how difficult it is to be yourself in the society, because apart from the elementary rules of behavior and etiquette, it is difficult to express yourself to the fullest, otherwise, people will criticize, humiliate or think badly of you. The author Malika Athey eloquently and intelligibly conveys to the reader all the difficulties and certain contradictions of women in the country, which consist in tossing and turning between traditions and modern trends, between the Eastern way of life and democratic impulses, between the desire of being a woman-keeper of the hearth and fulfilling her potential in the professional field.
The book does not touch on the topics of politics, religion, nationalism, or acute social problems, but simply about the life of the youth of the city of Almaty, about their problems and aspirations, traditions of a patriarchal society full of stereotypes and prejudices in which a woman has no right to succeed, has to endure domestic violence, get married in order to separate from their parents faster. There is a feeling that they only drink, play ‘I never’ and are in intimacy. And to a certain extent, the eternal problem of ‘fathers and children’ is faced by today’s youth, because they already live in a completely new era, where computer technologies rule the world, and thanks to the Internet, the whole world is in full view.
The author tells about hypocrisy, but at the same time about the freedom that the characters are endowed with. The book itself is a messenger of freedom, which is like a breath of fresh air among the conservatism inherent in local society and the culture of silencing everything inconvenient and important, objectionable to old traditions. Many people speaking about this novel talk about audacity and frankness (meaning the presence of intimate details in the book), and there is nothing wrong with these definitions, but in fact, this is not the case at all.
The narrative of the novel begins with the wedding ceremony of a certain Bota and Aidar, at which all the characters appearing in the book gather, which is an exposition, the reader gets acquainted with the characters by immersing into the atmosphere of the event, discovers obvious and potential conflicts, and possible developments. The bride’s friends Anel, Bakhti, and the main heroine Korlan or Kora, on whose behalf the narrative is conducted, very harshly discuss the bride, her morality, clothes, behavior, do not spare the most caustic and unflattering words and expressions for this, while forgetting about the most important thing that a person is built from – their human qualities, general morality, and the worldview.
The red thread through the book is a game of ‘I never’, played by three of the above girls and three young men, Karim, Anuar and Yun, aged about 25, who are going to play in the main character’s house. In the game, they say a fact about themselves, and others confirm or deny it, while not always this fact can be real. They are old friends, feel good together, but not always, gossip, envy, betray, enjoy life, and try to find a place in this world under the sun.
All the characters, both main and secondary, turned out to be real and alive, and all have their own advantages and disadvantages, as, indeed, in people’s actual lives. However, many dialogues are saturated with negativity, sarcasm, irony, arrogance, and typical discussion of a person ranging from appearance to behavior and financial position. At the same time, there are neither positive nor negative heroes, everyone lives according to their moral and personal standards., as they consider necessary and right, and most importantly, beneficial for them. The negativity in communication between the characters is intertwined with their hypocrisy and superficiality, but Kora does not accept hypocrisy, rather the truth and beauty in the world, although this is not accurate.
There are also bright moments in the book, including intellectual references to various concepts and phenomena, colorful descriptions, a subtle sense of humor, interesting construction of dialogues, and surely, description of real life problems and situations of the young generation of Almaty, most likely characteristic of large cities of the post-Soviet space.
Kora is in search of herself and her way in life. She owns a modest lingerie atelier, but decorates it at the highest level. She wanted to realize her desire to make all girls and women, regardless of breast and hip size, or weight, by sewing personal lingerie from the most exquisite and high-quality fabrics.
Besides, Kora faces the injustice of life and pressure, primarily from her family. The mother has entered into a second marriage and for the sake of her stepson is ready to deprive her own daughter of an apartment that she inherited from a relative. After all, the daughter, even being at the apartment, has not yet married, so a separate apartment is not necessary for her as much, it was the way her mother believed, and her stepson needs it more, because he has to bring the bride to a separate house. Not to mention the constant criticism of Kora from her mother about her shape and weight, success in life, and ambitions. The mother did not take the lingerie atelier seriously, although this project was very important for her daughter.
Kora’s friends aren’t perfect either. One friend runs after a man who has already exchanged his daughter for a car, and his wife for a girl with a child, the other can’t make her choice between a beloved man and a secured sponsor.
Her personal life leaves much to be desired, and her young man Karim, whom she trusts and admires, turns out to be a traitor, and even the tough competitor, having opened a large shopping center where the lingerie is sold as well, but at a much lower price, and, moreover, ladies do not need to wait for the order.
A complicated life and relationships with her parents’ family, friends, and a complicated personal life Kora has. She is a leader, always with her opinion on different things in life, but at the same time dependent on many circumstances and people that affect everything from her job to a place of residence, thus, it turns out that she is not so independent.
Her friends also resemble young people who are a little lost in life, although their life is more or less typical for the youth of Almaty above the average standard of living, they are not quite like the so-called ‘golden youth’.
Everyone has their own problems, goals, and actually the struggle for survival and desire for a good secure life, as well as the desire of every adequate person. For someone, their way of life seems like a living hell, and for someone, a normal everyday life, and in this everyone has their own. The narrative of the book tragically ends in the death of one of the characters, unexpectedly and at the same time not surprisingly.
Also, at the end of the book, the reader manages to combine the author and the main character, to this Malika Athey brought gently and smoothly with the help of the necessary expressions, sentences, descriptions, and dialogues. Separately, I would like to note the reflections of the author, who definitely has something to say to this world owing to the depth of thoughts and a caring approach to what is happening in society, understanding the aspirations of girls and women who, in addition to their female nature to be a spouse and mother, realize professional aspirations, and be useful to society.
The message of the book is in a sense to show the problems of modern youth in Kazakhstan, and, in general, in the countries of the post-Soviet space, which are united by a common past.
One of the problems being the mentality in the country and the concept of ‘uyat’ (translated from the Kazakh language as ‘shame’), as everyone is shouting about morality and conscience, however, they themselves are not without sin. At the same time, women are given a secondary role, and men are forgiven for everything.
Speaking of book reviews, they vary from positive to negative, which is absolutely normal for almost any writer’s work, because people are different and everyone passes the book through the prism of their thinking and experience, although, there are also expert readers with many years of experience or with writing skills, who already have a professional look at the technique of writing, plot, culmination, expertise at building dialogueswith the number of participants of more than two in which not every author succeeds. And such a view has the right to be as well.
‘I never’ is a book about the fact that sometimes people have to give up everything necessary and important for the sake of their spiritual and intellectual freedom, as well as freedom of choice. And at times they have to say ‘never’ to preserve their sense of dignity, often pay a high price for their dreams, and have to say goodbye to those they love for their own good, for the sake of their calm and safe future, because at the time loved ones betrayed, behaved selfishly and portrayed a semblance of support, which turned out to be just dusting in the eyes or playing to the public.
Undoubtedly, this book is a valuable contribution to the development of Kazakhstan’s literature, which means that the literary trend in the era of modernity does not stand still, and readers can contemplate the formation and development of young talents, because all the richness of the writer’s pen, as well as creativity in all its diversity. The variety of ideas, thoughts, approaches to life on the part of young authors enriches the national cultural fund, reveals a society with its realities from different sides, and certainly leaves its indelible mark in the current literature of Kazakhstan.
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