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Moon over Samarqand

Moon over Samarqand

Mohamed Mansi Qandil
Translated by Jennifer Peterson
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 420
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt15m7kxx
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  • Book Info
    Moon over Samarqand
    Book Description:

    A journey through Central Asia and beyond, Moon over Samarqand is the story of one Egyptian’s quest for the truth. Seeking explanations to his troubled past through a long-lost friend in Samarqand, Ali’s travel brings him into encounters with the Uzbekistan of today, yesterday, and once upon a time. His tale embraces many tales—those of his confounding taxi driver, of Islamic activists, and of the criminal underworld, as well as stories of struggles against authoritarianism in Egypt. Woven among these are legendary tales of gypsies, khans, and madmen, of magic, treasure, and love. Drawing parallels between Uzbekistan and Egypt, the novel shows diverse historical and modern connections between Central Asia and the Arab world. Painting a vivid portrayal of idealistic visionaries and brutal regimes, the novel explores power struggles between opposition currents and governments since the Uzbeki Soviet era and Egypt’s Nasser period. Moon over Samarqand received the 2006 Sawiris Foundation Award for Literature.

    eISBN: 978-1-61797-177-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Tales of the Steppe Lands

    • 1
      (pp. 3-21)

      A distant blue city. Delicate mist covers it in the morning and columns of scorching dust rise from it at noon.

      I seem to be the only stranger at the vast taxi station. A throng of drivers surrounds me—white faces seared a burnt red by the sun, eyes the same faded blue as the city, a gold tooth flashing in every mouth. I can smell the scent of their sweat. Each attempts to raise his voice above the others’ but I can’t understand a word they say. I only comprehend the numbers they write on their dusty car windows,...

    • 2
      (pp. 22-35)

      There is no end to the darkness that engulfs me, no limit to the faces formed of its particles. They are faces I thought I had forgotten, wounds I thought had healed over. That trembling child is still there. Nothing dies. Everything is preserved upon the shelves of darkness.

      I open my eyes to find myself covered in water. Nurallah is standing before me, still holding the pitcher whose contents he has emptied over my head. I try to get up but my body is in unbearable pain. Finding myself in a pool of water and mud, I curse him...

    • 3
      (pp. 36-48)

      At the river’s edge, Nurallah points with the full length of his arm and says, “This is Kara Darya, the black river. On the other side is the Gypsy camp, but there’s no bridge for us to cross.”

      We’re standing on the peak of a high hill, surrounded by willow trees. The elevation reveals before us a wide plain split by a small river, like the cut of a deeply sunk knife.

      Nurallah looks around, confused. “The Gypsies don’t like to live near bridges, as that would make it too easy to reach them.”

      We descend to the riverbank without...

    • 4
      (pp. 49-55)

      White lilies that grow only among ice crystals, bloom only in the light of the moon, and wilt if the sun touches them—this is what Aisha Bibi loved. She alone knew the places where they could be found. She would go to them every night, despite the pine needles pricking her cheeks drawn taut from the frost, and the snow leaving no traces to mark her path. On her return, she would visit the banks of the partly frozen river.

      As she left the miserable camp each day, her mother would scream at her, “If you’re not scared of...

    • 5
      (pp. 56-65)

      I wash my face in the cold river water, still feeling dizzy. The morning mist is hovering on the water’s surface, and yet the clamor of life has already burst forth in the Gypsy camp. I watch two young Gypsy men place the inflated tires into the boat, four tires, no, five. Had we come with four or five?

      Yara is standing under an oak tree. She doesn’t look toward me; her eyes are focused beyond the mist. I want to tell Nurallah about this mistake, but he too is inanimate and distant. He hasn’t said a word since we...

    • 6
      (pp. 66-78)

      “Here we are at last. May peace be upon you, Imam, guide to those lost in the hardship of the desert; those lost without shelter or protection; the wretched, the hungry, and the orphans; those seeking peace of mind and a balm for the spirit; those whom time has forsaken and for whom the earth has narrowed its confines; those seeking a distant horizon and a heaven to pray to. You are the defender of those without protection; you are solace to those without consolation. May peace be upon you and upon our Lord, the Messenger of God, and upon...

  3. Tales of Bukhara

    • 7
      (pp. 81-157)

      “Praise to God for the number of His creations, the glory of Him, the weight of His throne, and the ink of His words. He will remain when the hour of cessation arrives. It is He who breathes life into images. He is the light that will remain eternal after the universe enters the darkness of the waning moon.

      “Now then, it all began, not in the Ferghana Valley, populated with as many spirits as humans, nor in the cold steppe lands awaiting Shah-i-Zinda’s return in hopes that he’ll repair what time has ruined. Nor did it all begin at...

    • 8
      (pp. 158-218)

      I sleep only a little, just the short time between dawn and the beginning of the sun’s ascent. I wake startled by the preponderant sound of mumbling, and find myself on a small bed in a hall filled with empty ones. There are carvings and Qur’anic verses on the walls and ceiling.

      The mumbling evolves into a soft roar. Between sleep and wakefulness, I walk to the nearest window, pull aside the curtain, and look outside. The garden we were sitting in yesterday seems different in the sunlight. It’s crowded with hundreds of people, men and women clothed in white...

  4. Tales of Samarqand

    • 9
      (pp. 221-243)

      Why does Samarqand seem so distant, when only a few kilometers separate me from it? The car I’m in is somewhat new, at least in better shape than Nurallah’s, and the man driving it is younger. He seems calm. His beard is short but full, crowning his face, and he speaks Arabic slowly so as not to err in the conjugation of his verbs. “My name is Ismailov,” he tells me. “Our master has entrusted me with driving you to a hotel in Samarqand. He will join you later.”

      With some difficulty, the car makes its way through the crowd...

    • 10
      (pp. 244-267)

      I stare at the column of steam rising from the tea cup until it disappears. I don’t touch the food. Everything is silent and cold. I’m the only customer in this lonely restaurant. The girl serves her traditional breakfast and then vanishes. The tables are empty, and it doesn’t seem that any customers will come. The city is sleeping and its birds are silent. I peer through the glass and see fog obscuring all the city’s features, isolating it and reminding me that I’m a stranger here. It’s as though this fog were my trembling breath, visions of the nightmares...

    • 11
      (pp. 268-282)

      There is in fact another Samarqand, one that is wily and deceptively beautiful. Behind its splendor are sources for delight, not just a web of death. Tayf and I spend days exploring it. Nurallah has forgotten me, or perhaps has moved on without me. Yet many things no longer seem important. Now I’m diving into my own adventures, with Tayf beside me. The entire city is between our hands.

      We leave the maze of narrow roads for Tashkent Namiska Street. We no longer need a car, and walk slowly beneath the white poplar trees until we reach the old market...

    • 12
      (pp. 283-304)

      I see him sitting by the front door. Part of his body is in the sun, but his head is in the shade. His face has lost its ruddiness; it looks pale and absentminded. He stares with sunken eyes at the newspaper in his hands. I know he’s sitting there waiting for me. We don’t have an appointment, but he knows that I’ll return and ask him the questions that haunt me. I’ve traveled far to reach him, an escape with no return.

      I give the driver his fare and walk slowly toward him. He smiles weakly when he sees...

  5. My Tales

    • 13
      (pp. 307-329)

      “Perhaps I can step outside myself, even if for only a few moments. I’m in need of an inanimate time, one that doesn’t exhaust me with its successive minutes, hours, and days. I need a moment of peace during which I can distance myself from my own hide and the bars of bone that imprison my soul. I see myself as no one else has. I conjure up the image of my father—although it’s never left me—vibrant, exhausting, bitter, forceful. Perhaps this will help me determine the sources of weakness that trailed his steps and then mine, a...

    • 14
      (pp. 330-350)

      The entire house was draped with colored lights—exaggerated ornamentation for just a birthday party. Ali stood beside his father holding a package wrapped in silver paper. He didn’t know what kind of gift it contained; his father has entrusted one of his staff to buy it without bothering to inspect it. They were fleeing the desolation of the house. They crossed the garden with its trees strung in lights. There were a few chairs scattered about, but most of the guests were inside the house. There was a dry, cold wind.

      Colonel al-Tuhami, with his bulky body, slowly came...

    • 15
      (pp. 351-368)

      “I saw my mother. Her face was long and her forehead tapering, her jaw delicate and the curve of her nose incredibly fine. She had put on bronze lipstick, and her wide eyes were fringed by long lashes. Her eyes had a captivating glimmer, and my image was reflected in them. She must have held on to that image for a long time, for I was still little in it. What’s surprising is that I was smiling, and she was smiling too. Her lips revealed straight, incredibly white teeth. She was wearing a white blouse, and a loose skirt printed...

    • 16
      (pp. 369-384)

      The train rattled as though its carriages were about to disconnect. As soon as it sped up it stopped again at small, dusty stations, most without clear names. Passengers boarded and disembarked in an endless crush. This was the last train, and Ali was withdrawn into the corner of a third-class seat. Across from him were four passengers in large turbans, endlessly eating tangerines and drinking tea. They stared at him with astonishment in their eyes—he still bore the marks of his wounds. At the very least, his head was still wrapped in bandages, and his face was as...

    • 17
      (pp. 385-413)

      Ali was awake when he heard the commotion below. He left his room to find General Rashidov standing in the reception, surrounded by the house guards. He looked tired and pale. A moment later, his father awoke to the same commotion. He gestured to the guards and they left. The three of them stood facing each other, none of them daring to sit. Rashidov was shaking; he couldn’t control his body’s tremor. In a choppy voice, he said, “I’m leaving now. I only have a few hours left. The plane is waiting for me.”

      His father stared at him in...

  6. Glossary
    (pp. 414-416)