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Accepted Paper:

The Best of Both Worlds: Oral Epic Poetry and Modernism in the First Kazakh Novel  
Nuraiym Kossybak (Nazarbayev University)


In this study, I analyze the connection between oral epic poetry and novel form in the first Kazakh novel Akbilek by Zhusipbek Aimauytov. I argue that Akbilek is a modernist novel, which uses stylistic innovations like versed narration as a means of responding to the changes that happened in Kazakh society in the beginning of the twentieth century.

The 1917 revolution in the Russian Empire, which led to the collapse of the Imperial rule and the establishment of the USSR, had significant political, social and economic repercussions for Kazakh people. These challenges coincided with another major change — now in the literary realm — the rise of the novel. While Mirzhakyp Dulatov’s Bakytsyz Zhamal is often recognized as the first Kazakh novel, its length makes it too short for a novel. Akbilek is the first prose writing in Kazakh literature which can be considered a novel, both in terms of length and plot. Serialized in the journal Aiel tengdigi (Women’s Equality) through 1927-1928, Akbilek narrates the story of a teenage girl abducted by the White Army officers, who flee to Mount Altai in the aftermath of the 1917 revolution. The plot of the novel follows the tragic story of abuse, shame and estrangement that culminates in redemption and the rise of the heroine in spite of life’s challenges.

In this novel, Aimauytov addresses both the challenges posed by the revolution and the need for new ways of writing about these challenges. He achieves this through experimentation with versed narration, with narrative perspective and sequence, the use of stream of consciousness as well as symbolism. In this presentation, I focus on Aimauytov’s most innovative stylistic choice — the use of versed narration, which showcases literary devices characteristic of Kazakh oral epic poems: parallelism, end-rhyme, alliteration and simile. Based on the textual analysis of the novel, I argue that Aimauytov merges the long-standing poetic tradition of Kazakh people with the new novel form. While being a means of addressing new challenges, the novel form itself was a change and a novelty. Aimauytov adapts the novel form by using the elements of the existing poetic tradition in his versed narration.

Banned shortly after its publication and rediscovered in 1989, Akbilek has received little scholarly attention. This research contributes to the history of Kazakh literature by making an accurate account of the origin and development of the Kazakh novel.

Panel LIT02
Literature in 20th Century Eurasia
  Session 1 Saturday 8 June, 2024, -