This narrative poem was written by Ilias Jansugurov about the life of another poet, a man named Akan who lived from 1843 to 1913. More accurately, it’s about Akan’s horse, the eponymously named “Kulager.” The story revolves around a horse race that is takes place in Kazakhstan. An important, if unloved, man passed away, and as part of the wake there is a massive get together of people from far and wide, and it features a horse race.
Kulager is a crowd favorite, and in the cut-throat Kazakh steppe, that love seals the animal’s fate. The opening chapters acquaint us with setting, with Akan, and with Kulager, and then proceed into the story of the Akan’s arrival, the pre-race braggadocio that confronts him, and the race, itself. There is another favored horse who isn’t so beloved as Kulager but who has an owner willing to do anything to secure a victory. The tragedy that ensues is one in a long line that have confronted Akan.
It’s worth mentioning the tragedy of the author’s own life. Jansugurov was killed in 1938 in Stalin’s purges. He was considered too outspoken, and his criticisms were not so well veiled to keep him from drawing the ire of the state.
The book includes monochrome artwork and a glossary that comes in handy for those who aren’t acquainted with the Kazakh language. There are two forwards and a translator’s post-script, but it’s not the case (as is sometimes the case for poetry and thin volumes, more generally) that the ancillary matter exists to pad the book out to a publishable length. The ancillary matter is of reasonable length, contains useful information, and the bulk of the page count consists of the poem.
I found this book interesting and readable and would recommend it for those interested in life on the steppe. I picked “Kulager” up because I try to read indigenous literature from each country I visit, and this was the only Kazakh literature I could find translated to English. That said, it seems to be the first work to be put out by Kazakhstan’s National Bureau of Translations, and so – hopefully – there will be more to follow.