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Jamilia by Chingiz Aitmatov

July 17, 2012

Jamilia’s husband is off fighting at the front. She spends her days hauling sacks of grain from the threshing floor to the train station in their small village in the Caucasus, accompanied by Seit, her young brother-in-law, and Daniyar, a sullen newcomer to the village who has been wounded on the battlefield. Seit observes the beautiful, spirited Jamilia spurn men’s advances, and wince at the dispassionate letters she receives from her husband. Meanwhile, undeterred by Jamilia’s teasing, Daniyar sings as they return each evening from the fields. Soon Jamilia is in love, and she and Daniyar elope just as her husband returns. 

Despite this book being published in 1957 and translated into English in 2007, I had never heard of it until a little buzz started surrounding it at work! It may be small at a mere 97 pages, but sometimes there’s nothing better than sitting down one evening and being able to read a book from cover to cover at a nice leisurely pace, and that’s exactly what I did!

Set in a small countryside village in the Caucasus during World War II, Jamilia is told from the perspective of her brother-in-law, Seit. He observes Jamilia as she deals with the absence of her husband at war, and her reactions to the arrival of newcomer, Daniyar who has been wounded on the battlefield. Jamilia’s relationship with Daniyar is a quiet one, to say the least, and one that seems to take them both by surprise. It’s not a sex-fuelled passion that leads them arranging secret rendezvous at night, and neither is it love at first sight. It’s merely love in its purest form. A love that forms quietly over time, as they slowly begin to realise they have found something in one another that they’ve never been able to find anywhere else before.

First of all, I’m not going to lie – this isn’t the greatest love story I’ve ever read, like it proclaims itself to be on the front cover. But I can tell you it an absolute pleasure to read, and a beautiful piece of fiction. What I loved most of all about Jamilia is the way Aitmatov uses very few words to create such a vivid and powerful portrayal of love, in all its forms. It is an exceptionally easy read, but there is something wonderful in the sheer simplicity and sparseness of the prose that makes you fall in love with it a little, though, in truth, perhaps not as much as I wanted to. If I could criticise it I would have to say it lacks the same emotional depth that I feel other short translated works of fiction were able to create, particularly Monsiur Linh and His Child by Philippe Claudel comes to mind here. For what it is, Jamilia is a lovely book that may stay with you a few days and leave you reminiscing over a love that swept two people up in its midst, but I still cannot help but feel that for it to be the world’s greatest love story, it needed just a little more. I can tell you now, that I know this novel won’t be to everyone’s taste. I’m sure you will know from this review already whether it is for you or not, but if you’re dangling on the borderline, then just remember that it’s only 97 pages, and in my opinion, well-worth the time to find out!

I’d definitely recommend Jamilia to anyone with a love for translated and foreign fiction, or for anyone who loves great love stories such as Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks.

Jamilia is out now, published by Telegram Books, and a big thank you goes to the publisher for providing me with a copy for review.


12 Comments leave one →
  1. August 8, 2012 09:16

    I am playing catch up with your blog and you have a fair few reviews of books I haven’t read yet but am meaning to and so I will come back when I have devoured them. However, whilst this is one of them I had to comment as it is a book I have been intrigued by for quite some time thanks to Waterstones who are bigging it up (see I have been going back 😉 after all) and now want to read even more from your review. It sounds like it is a brilliant tale.

    • August 8, 2012 18:42

      hehe thanks for catching up on my reviews 🙂 I know not everyone will love Jamilia…but I thought it was lovely, and if you do get around to reading it I will definitely be very interested in your thoughts! I think it’s great that Waterstones are highlighting such a little-known title such as Jamilia and giving it a real chance! 🙂

  2. February 21, 2013 16:31

    Like you I am also a bookseller at I’m guessing Waterstones (since you were reviewing this), I’m hoping that like me you were puzzled about the choice of this for book of the month but you seem to be pleasantly surprised.

    I really enjoyed your review and if you have a min and would let me know what you think of mine it would be much appreciated

    • February 21, 2013 18:13

      Thanks for your comment! I am indeed a Waterstones bookseller! Glad you enjoyed my review. I just took a look at yours, lovely blog! It was indeed a puzzling choice for book of the month, but it was nice to push something so little known and create a buzz around such a book! I know it’s not been to everyone’s taste, but I did quite like it 🙂

      • February 21, 2013 20:20

        Nice to meet someone from a different branch 🙂 Thanks for the compliment. I think the consensus from us was it was a nice challenge plus something that was a complete change from many of our reading tastes. I got good feedback when people came back as well which is always nice 🙂

      • February 22, 2013 20:33

        Same to you! 🙂 Which branch are you at? I agree, it was a really positive challenge I think, and just great to try something new. Again, we got loads of positive comments from returning customers as well!

      • February 24, 2013 03:37

        I’m at the Petersfield branch in Surrey, where are you? How’re you getting along with this month? I’m not entirely feeling their choice :S

      • February 24, 2013 11:56

        I’m at the Cheltenham branch 🙂 You mean Toby’s Room? Ah it’s alright… a little too obvious. What are you making of this year’s W11?

      • February 24, 2013 20:10

        Cool, never been there before is it a larger store? We’re tiny 🙂 Y I’m finding interesting, definitely something that I would already pick up but the others I haven’t heard much about the others how about you?

      • February 24, 2013 20:57

        It’s fairly large, 3 floors 🙂 And all beautiful now since the refit! You should come some time – especially as we have the Cheltenham literature festival! See, Y I wouldn’t have picked up at all, and haven’t bothered with to be honest, and the others I’m a little ‘meh’ about. I tried Alex Woods and gave up after 50 pages. There are a few later in the year I’m excited about – such as Pig’s Foot and Burial Rights. But definitely preferred last year’s list!

  3. February 27, 2013 18:56

    Wow 3 floors! We got the refit too, everyones loving it. The only bad thing I’ve heard about it was that it’s too “London” for Hampshire and that I’m seeing as not even a bad thing. If I’m ever round that area I will definitely come and have a looksee. Last year was definitely better agreed.


  1. July Summary « Book Monkey

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