Dancer from Khiva: One Muslim Woman's Quest for Freedom

Overview

An unflinchingly honest memoir, The Dancer from Khiva is a true story that offers remarkable insights into Central Asian culture through the harrowing experiences of a young girl.

In a narrative that flows like a late-night confession, Bibish recounts her story. Born to an impoverished family in a deeply religious village in Uzbekistan, Bibish was named “Hadjarbibi” in honor of her grandfather’s hadj, or pilgrimage to Mecca. But the holy name did not protect her from being ...

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Overview

An unflinchingly honest memoir, The Dancer from Khiva is a true story that offers remarkable insights into Central Asian culture through the harrowing experiences of a young girl.

In a narrative that flows like a late-night confession, Bibish recounts her story. Born to an impoverished family in a deeply religious village in Uzbekistan, Bibish was named “Hadjarbibi” in honor of her grandfather’s hadj, or pilgrimage to Mecca. But the holy name did not protect her from being gang-raped at the age of eight and left for dead in the desert. Bibish’s tenacity helped her survive, but in the coming years, that same tough-spiritedness caused her to be beaten, victimized, and ostracized from her family and community. Despite the seeming hopelessness of being a woman in such a cruelly patriarchal society, Bibish secretly cultivated her own dreams—of dancing, of raising a family, and of telling her story to the world.

The product of incredible resilience and spirit, The Dancer from Khiva is a harrowing, clear-eyed dispatch from a land where thousands of such stories have been silenced. It is a testament to Bibish’s fierce will and courage: the searing, fast-paced tale of a woman who risked everything.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Published to critical acclaim in Russia, Bibish's memoir of raw hardship and desperate courage prompted one critic to declare that it put fiction to shame. Through plainspoken, episodic vignettes-lit with flashes of wry self-awareness-Bibish, a former Moscow street vendor, divulges epic tragedy without histrionics: a grisly upbringing of abject poverty in Muslim Uzbekistan, provincial repression and victimization that proves sorrowfully apt in steeling her for life's cruelties. Gang-raped and left for dead, she returns to her family looking "as ugly and dirty as the witch Baba-Yaga," dispelling her parents' worries with the lie that she'd been tending cows. She takes up dancing only to disgrace her village; and as a documented nonvirgin she's hard-pressed to find a husband. After fleeing to Leningrad, she returns to marry into a respectable family and eventually settles in Russia, which brings challenges both sober and silly. With innocent candor (she finds herself a "primitive savage" in the big city), Bibish effectively weaves into her understated narrative snippets of traditions and folk proverbs. (Aug.)

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Kirkus Reviews
Raw, folksy memoir by a woman who migrated from Uzbekistan to Russia and made a good life for herself and her family. Bibish's digressive first-person narrative reads like the transcript of an oral history, full of amusing, offhand anecdotes but without a clear shape or form. Her chatty, vernacular approach has its shortcomings, but also considerable charm. "I will tell you my story to unburden my heart a little," she begins like a modern-day Moll Flanders, instantly winning over the reader. Born sometime in the 1960s to a large, impoverished family in the harsh region near Khiva, she was named Hadjarbibi in honor of her great-grandfather's pilgrimage to Mecca and grew up under strict Muslim rules. When she was eight, three men abducted her from the side of the road, drove into the desert, raped her and left her to die. She managed to return to her village, though she did not reveal what had happened. As a teenager, she was again picked up and gang-raped, this time by men she knew, and again she suffered in silence. Leaving her stifling hometown became a priority; she studied hard at school and earned money folk dancing on regional television and as an extra in movies, to the horror of her conservative Muslim neighbors. She eventually married Ikram, a well-off young man from Turkmenia (it was his mother who shortened her name to Bibish), and the couple migrated to Russia in search of a better life. The memoir's final section dwells on the hardships they underwent to establish themselves in a town near Moscow: discrimination, the bullying of their older, dark-skinned son, difficulties finding an apartment, eking out a meager living as traders in the market. Given all that Bibish hassurvived, readers may be skeptical of the author's portrait of herself as a silly rube without common sense. A candid tale of survival as a woman and a member of an ethnic minority. Agent: Bettina Nibbe/Nibbe Wielding
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802170507
  • Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
  • Publication date: 8/5/2008
  • Pages: 176
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.22 (h) x 0.70 (d)

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 23, 2010

    Touchingly sad, funny and uplifting

    This is a different sort of book. It's not fiction, but it doesn't really read like a memoir either. It's the true story of Bibish, an Uzbeki woman who grows up in a tiny village. Bibish is sexually assaulted on more than one occasion, but never tells anyone because in her culture, she would be punished for the assaults. She endures numerous hardships but somehow maintains hope and a desire to escape her difficult life. She loves to dance but is punished for doing so by her family. She makes her escape, which leads to a whole new series of pitfalls.

    Although many of the things that happen to her are horrific, there are other, more light hearted aspects of the novel too. When Bibish moves to Russia and sets up a stall in the marketplace, she hasn't quite got the hang of the Russian language and makes some fairly inappropriate, and hilarious, gaffes while trying to talk to customers. The tone of the book is very conversational, almost a cross between a journal and a long talk with a close friend. It's both sad and uplifting, and a clear and personal portrait of one woman's struggle to survive oppression and poverty with her spirit intact.

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