Kuraj

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An epic and moving historical novel about a nomadic girl's search for home.

Born in the late 1930s on the Central Asian steppe, Naja is the daughter of a clan chieftain of the Tushan nomads, proud descendants of Genghis Khan. When her fiercely independent father, U'lan, hears of Stalin's plan to bring the Tushan under state control and make them settle permanently in collective farms, he pledges to join forces with the invading German army. It is a pledge of honor that will take...

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2006 Trade paperback New. No dust jacket as issued. New unread book, possibly some light shelfwear. New unread, possibly light shelfwear. Trade paperback (US). Glued binding. ... 433 p. Audience: General/trade. (KMC-1, 2) Read more Show Less

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Kuraj

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Overview

An epic and moving historical novel about a nomadic girl's search for home.

Born in the late 1930s on the Central Asian steppe, Naja is the daughter of a clan chieftain of the Tushan nomads, proud descendants of Genghis Khan. When her fiercely independent father, U'lan, hears of Stalin's plan to bring the Tushan under state control and make them settle permanently in collective farms, he pledges to join forces with the invading German army. It is a pledge of honor that will take her father to the hell of Stalingrad and change Naja's life forever by eventually bringing her, at the age of nine, to ruined postwar Cologne.

From there she must learn to adapt to a strange new culture, and to the strange family that has taken her in. But as Naja gradually grows more comfortable in this alien world, the memories of her young life on the steppe call out to her. She begins a difficult search for her past—and the past of her people—with only the word kuraj (Tushan for tumbleweed) as her talisman and guide.

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Editorial Reviews

Corriere della Sera

“An extraordinary epic of emigration, capture, ruin, flight and return—a revelation.”

Repubblica

“Extraordinary and gripping.”

Publishers Weekly
Based on a true story, Di Natale's expansive debut chronicles the journey of Naja, a Mongol girl taken from the Central Asian steppes to Cologne, Germany, during WWII. This absorbing if not entirely coherent novel encompasses the far-flung war story that precedes the young heroine's relocation, the details of her alienation in Europe and the cultural history of her nomadic people. When her birth father, Ul'an, a Tunshan khan, joins the Germans in protest of Stalin's collectivization, he meets Lt. G nther Berger, with whom he lays siege to Stalingrad as part of the Turkestan battalion. After the Russians capture and imprison the two men, they escape and return to the steppes, only for Ul'an to die. At Ul'an's behest, G nther adopts the 10-year-old Naja, and with his wife, Siglinde, raises her in his bourgeois German postwar household. As the novel-titled after Naja's native word for tumbleweed-shifts points of view, time and place, it follows her to middle age, when she comes to familial terms with her adoptive parents and her past. The plot line is original and the writing lyrical, but the number of shifts involved in Naja's journey back to her own identity will leave less diligent readers behind. (Jan.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In a story that moves from the steppes of central Asia to post-World War II Cologne, first-time novelist di Natale transforms the true-life experiences of her eight-year-old heroine, Naja, into a fascinating novel about immigration, dislocation, and, finally, self-acceptance. Just before the war, Naja is born to a tribe of Mongol nomads descended from Genghis Khan. Her father volunteers to fight with the Germans because his tribe has been oppressed by Stalin's forced collectivization of indigenous peoples. He is captured and escapes with a German friend, who adopts Naja after her father's death. Totally cut off from her language and customs, the little girl eventually adapts to her new home even though her physical features and beliefs mark her forever as an outsider. Di Natale intercuts the narrative with the myths and history of the nomads; vivid, albeit painful descriptions of the Battle of Stalingrad; and the experiences of German POWs in the Soviet Union. Recommended for larger public libraries.-Andrea Kempf, Johnson Cty. Community Coll. Lib., Overland Park, KS Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Why do those strange Germans "live in houses with no holes in the roof? Why did they shut themselves of their own free will between brick walls?" So wonders the narrator of this ambitious but ponderous coming-of-age tale. Naja is a proud descendant of Genghis Khan, a nomad for whom her ancestral Land of the Seven Rivers, in the heart of Asia, is barely a memory. Now, like a kuraj-a tumbleweed-she finds herself blown by history's gales across a continent and into an alien land, the postwar Germany of those lean years before the economic miracle of the 1950s. Debut novelist di Natale, an Italian-born ethnologist and longtime resident of Germany, works a scenario worthy of Pasternak: Naja has ended up in Germany because her warrior father, U'lan, had made the fateful choice of opposing the Soviet regime, the new conquerors of the steppes, and of allying with the invading Nazi armies. For their part, Hitler's minions aren't sure what to make of these knife-wielding nomads, who now click their "boots with the curled toes, decorated with colored embroidery" and share the Nazi salute with their new comrades-in-arms; the best moments of di Natale's narrative are depictions of cultural collision and mutual bewilderment that accompany U'lan's slow-building friendship with the German officer who fights alongside him and, in the end, rescues Naja from the vengeful Soviets. The German is of a philosophical, ruminative bent, and he provides a well-drawn counterpoint to the more action-inclined U'lan, freedom personified, who is given to wondering why the Germans don't shed their leader: "When a khan is worthless, his men choose another. But why do you keep this khan who does not know how to win?"Theback-and-forth between Western modern and Eastern sage sharpens a narrative full of good moments. Still, glacially paced and marked by long passages in which not much happens, it's not for the impatient.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781582342207
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
  • Publication date: 1/10/2006
  • Edition description: Translatio
  • Pages: 448
  • Product dimensions: 6.08 (w) x 8.92 (h) x 1.19 (d)

Meet the Author

Silvia di Natale was born in Genoa in 1951 and moved to Germany in 1973, where she lives with her husband and son. She teaches and works as an ethnosociologist. Kuraj is her first novel.

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