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Chinghiz Gusseinov: Магомед, Мамед, Мамиш (Mahomet, Mahmed, Mamish)

In Azerbaijani he was Mohammed and in Russian Mahomet but everyone calls him Mamish. This book tells his story but it is as much a story of his rather complicated extended family. Kyazym, a Turkmeni gold prospector, came to Baku where he met first year university student Tukezban and seduced her. They had a child – Mamish. Tukezban retuned to Baku to have the baby and then handed him over to her mother and returned to her husband in Magadan. Then they are off to Ashgabat and then back to Baku. Further travels result in Tukezban being nicknamed The Nomad by her family. Eventually, Kyazym is in Ashgabat, after his mother dies, while Tukezban is in Baku. Meanwhile Mamish does his military service. After his service, he has a decision to make but ends up in Morskoye where they are drilling for oil, as he has qualified in oil drilling and there is money to be made. (Morskoye is about 200 miles from Baku.)

But, as I said, this novel is as much about his family. On returning from military service, he meets a young woman student, known only as R, though we later find out that she is called Rena. He falls for her but she is less enthusiastic but still accepts his attention. However, they drift apart. We will find out later that two members of his family have fallen for her. In particular, his uncle Hasai, married to the ferocious Husniye, has fallen for and will eventually take her as his wife (though they do not marry), even though Husniye technically remains his legal wife. Indeed, he cannot divorce Husniye as she knows too much about him and would reveal things he would not want revealing. This marriage has wide repercussions throughout the family, though most of the men applaud it, and a part of the story is about the effect it does have. Hasai is the eldest brother and acts as something of a patriarch with his three younger brothers and his younger sister, Yukezban.

In addition to the Rena story and its repercussions, the book tells other stories. Some involve drinking and feasting, something the Azerbaijanis spend much time on. But there is also, for example, the story of Aga. He is sent to Siberia for various crimes. However, Hasai is determined to get him out and we follow a complicated story of how he manages to do so. However, when he returns, he returns with a pregnant Russian wife. She has a child, Ali (also known as Alik). The family decide that a Russian wife is not suitable and the poor woman (we never learn her name) is sent back to Russia. Aga will marry Melakhet and have two children by her. Not surprisingly, when he is twenty Ali wants to know more about his mother and tries to find out, so he heads off to Siberia.

It is a somewhat chaotic novel with no real plot except the basic story that families can both hate each other with a passion, while loving each other with a passion. They try to stab one another in the back, yet stick together when necessary, particularly during the big fight towards the end of the book. It is certainly an enjoyable novel, full of humour and an interesting introduction to a different culture but it is not great literature.

Publishing history

First published 1975 by Druzhba Narodov
First English translation 1978 by Macmillan
Translated by Antonina W. Bouis