The Threepenny Review

The Poet of Kyrgyzstan

THE MAN called Kenje Kara the Fiddler (real name unknown) would have been of middle age when he was called up from the village of Besh-küngöy, near the foot of the Tienshan Mountains, to entertain a peculiar group of visitors foreign to his land. Nowadays Besh-küngöy is poised to be swallowed up by the southernmost reaches of Bishkek, but in 1903 (or perhaps 1904—this too is unknown), when Kenje Kara set out on horseback to sing for a party of Russians, the country of Kyrgyzstan did not yet exist on the map, and the city that would become its capital was no more than a small colonial town constructed by tsarist forces on the site of a razed mud fortress. It is here, among Cossack horsemen and Volga-born peasants lured by the promise of cheap land in conquered Turkestan, that the members of the so-called Belinsky Expedition had ended up against their will. Self-styled pioneers of Russia’s Far East, their ambitions had foundered after revelations of fraud sparked a mutiny, leaving those few who remained faithful to Belinsky stuck in a Central Asian garrison town

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