Monday, 30 June 2014

All This Belongs to Me

Image sourced from here
This has taken me several nights to write this. Mainly as I get started googling Mongolia and can't stop.

I got gifted this book by two very special friends. Interestingly it was from my Czech friends by a Czech writer, but I got no Czech while I read this book. I was expecting a glimmer or two of Prague or somewhere similar and then a dive into the deepest and darkest Mongolia. But on that front I was disappointed

What I was I was thrown into, and then stayed, was into the lives of a family living in the shadow of the Red Mountain as they called it. I'm not sure exactly the population, but thanks to wiki, I can tell you how many livestock animals live in the area. Kind of shows what is the most important thing in these peoples lives. Who cares about how many people there are, they all are stuffed without livestock.

We are introduced to a family living in a ger (yurt) under these mountains, which includes 4 daughters, no sons. This is an element of tension already in the family, but add in that the two middle daughters seem to be products of infidelity (given away really by different racial characteristics), and this makes for a happy family of 7 (grandma's there too) in a small tent. The book is then told in 6 parts, 4 by 3 of the sisters, 1 by the mother, and 1 by a daughter of one of the sisters.

It's a fascinating story really. You have the life on the land in the family ger, the girls being sent off to socialist state boarding school for nomadic kids (compulsory I have just learnt. Due to this policy they pretty much got rid of illiteracy!), some of the girls moving to the capital city and dealing with an incredibly different world, and the challenges they and their family have with this cultural change.

There is so much change occurring in the this book. Socialism to capitalism. Traditional culture to modernity. Rural to urban. And then other underlying problems tied to the above such as poverty and alcoholism. It's a thin book (under 200pp) but it is full of issues.

I loved learning about the culture (hence the constant googling). I have had a fascination with Mongolia since I was a little kid. People living in tents in high mountains and freezing conditions or deserts, moving around whenever they wish. For an urban aussie kid, this was a magical place. You really feel the remote landscape while in the family home, which is impressive to convey the feeling of remoteness while focusing on a tent with 7ish people crammed inside. Again, as with a few books I've read lately, none of the family were instantly likeable. And I feel this is what let the book down. I just needed someone to engage with, and that was lacking. And for me, that's what I need to take a good book, to an amazing one.

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