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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Tale of Aypi

Ak Welsapar

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To purchase The Tale of Aypi

Title: The Tale of Aypi
Author: Ak Welsapar
Genre: Novel
Written: 1988 (Eng. 2016)
Length: 163 pages
Original in: Turkmen
Availability: The Tale of Aypi - US
The Tale of Aypi - UK
The Tale of Aypi - Canada
  • Turkmen title: Aýpi hakyndaky rowaýat
  • Translated by W.M.Coulson

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Our Assessment:

B+ : mix of many issues -- many variations on tradition v. change -- that works quite nicely

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Ak Welsapar's The Tale of Aypi is a late-Soviet-era novel from Turkmenistan. Although set in the Gorbachev-years of perestroika, the fundamental issue facing the distant fishing village where most of the novel takes place pits an all-powerful(-seeming) state that still dictates as it pleases against an almost entirely powerless population. The traditional local occupation -- fishing -- has been forbidden, and the site of the village designated for an asthma sanatorium. State planning being what it is, work progresses in fits and starts, but the plan remains to relocate all the villagers to a town a few hours away.
       The locals are more or less resigned to their fate -- "The power's in the government's hands, what authority do we have ?" -- and some have already checked out the new homes they have been assigned in the town. The lone hold-out is Araz Ateyev, married to Ay-Bebek, with whom he has two young children. He won't give up his fishing -- or his claim to his home. So, yes, The Tale of Aypi is, in part, a tale of a last man standing against the powers that be. But, though central to the story, this is only part of it, too.
       For one, there's also that 'Aypi' of the title, a legendary figure that is introduced in the book's second chapter (Welsapar wisely tucking it in after the modern-day stage has been set). Some three hundred years earlier a beautiful local woman, Aypi, greeted some "strange men from unknown lands" -- interaction that made the villagers suspicious and uncomfortable. Quickly they turned on her -- "You'll bring calamity down on us all !" -- and did away with her, as best they could. This left her slumbering at the bottom of the sea for centuries, but with the modern turmoil around her: "Aypi's troubled spirit stirred" and she sizes up what's become of her former world and begins to seriously haunt it.
       The locals has already long worried that they are cursed, from when they first went after Aypi:

     Ever since, the people on the coast were haunted by the fear that those uninvited guests would return someday, bearing not gifts but weapons.
       And when Aypi returns with a vengeance that unsettles present-day things further.
       Aypi is quickly particularly annoyed by the local menfolk and their treatment of women. She soon figures out that here:
The thing men most fear is independent females. You want dependent wives.
       So there's the conflict between the sexes, too -- most of which Aypi handles, quickly and thoroughly. But beyond that there is also a generation rift, as the young ones adapt much quicker to metropolitan life and modern ways -- so much so that the older generation worries about no longer being able to (literally) understand them. As one elder describes the situation:
we're at the exact midpoint between the past and the future ! You and I are nearer to the past, so we don't quite understand the present. It's like a veiled woman to us ! Time has passed us by. Soon these eyes will see only visions from the past.
       Araz has an encounter with the authorities; Ay-Bebek considers visiting the house they've been assigned in town and blessing it; a wedding party is held in the village, showing even more clearly the differences between old worlds and new, and country and city life. The action is, for the most part simple, with even the confrontations limited, with few dramatic gestures -- it's not like the villagers get herded in trucks and driven off, as even when it's underway the transition of leaving the seaside village and taking over the new homes in town is a gradual and incomplete process. But Welsapar manages a surprising broad panorama here, presenting a nice slice-of-lives picture of fishing- and village-life, right down to what it's like for the locals to get television -- and also just how pervasive fear of the authorities is, as demonstrated on Azar's arduous trip home after they had a chat with him. With Aypi and Araz, there's considerable headstrong lashing out -- in contrast to the resigned passivity of many of the others -- and there's just enough stirring up, in a variety of ways to make for both action and suspense.
       Welsapar doesn't offer the simple, obvious progression that one might expect from his premises, offering a tale that relies on tradition and legend and typical clashes (between generations, sexes, rural and urban, and the powerful and powerless) but doesn't spin them out in simply conventional ways, making for a consistently engaging read.
       It makes for a nice, small but subtly sophisticated work.

- M.A.Orthofer, 22 November 2016

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The Tale of Aypi: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Soviet-born Turkmen author Ak Welsapar was born in 1956. He left Turkmenistan in 1993 and currently lives in Sweden.

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