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by Bibish & translated by Andrew Bromfield

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-8021-7050-7
Publisher: Black Cat/Grove

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 has survived, 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.