“Sidik Golden MobOff” translated by Bruce Humes
Alice Mingay, 18/2/19
Sidik Golden MobOff was quite clearly a man who lived by his own rules. Scorned by some yet loved by others, unfaithful to his wife but too loyal to leave her, Alat Asem and Bruce Humes carefully construct their depiction of this gentleman through his devoted friend’s posthumous search for an unnatural cause of his death, interspersed with accounts of their past interactions.
I was in drawn to this tale in part by Sidik’s unusual nicknames, hinting of juicy backstories in a community in which gossip means that everyone remembers everything. It did not disappoint – meeting with those who had given him the respective names were key steps on the narrator’s journey, whilst the names themselves contributed to his larger-than-life aura. A line whispered by an unnamed man on the bus stuck with me in this regard: “In summary, this deceased mate of ours was a rather odd fellow, and the words at my disposal are insufficient to dissect his temperament.”
A Uyghur author writing novels in Mandarin is not something I have come across a great deal of before. Just as I read the story in a different language to which the characters would have likely interacted, I found it interesting that so too did those who read the book ‘untranslated.’ In this way, Alet Asem appears not only as the author of his tale, but also as the translator for a Mandarin speaking audience. Yet despite this, use of geographic placers (such as the Taklimakan Desert, Almaty and River of the Western Regions) combined with more specific references to Islam and Uyghurs mean the cultural context is unmistakable. I thoroughly enjoyed this rich story with its intriguing characters, and found it a poignant insight into a different side of Xinjiang than that which now, sadly, so frequently appears in the media.