Why would a Russian-speaking Israeli write in English about Kazakhstan?

I was born December 2nd, 1983, in Kokshetau, Kazakhstan. I am studying for an MA in English Literature at TAU, planning a doctoral thesis which will include a close examination of the mental processes behind the composition of one or more of my own short works.

My maternal grandmother was one of the many people, and the few Jews, who agreed to evacuated from Belarus in 1941. At 13 years of age, she left the city of Mogilyov to settle in a village (originally a Cossack settlement) in Kazakhstan, where she met a Russian man and gave birth to my mother in 1955, who, in turn, married a man of German extraction and changed her name to Bart.

Kazakhs have a long history as a nomadic Turkic people in Central Asia, and a painful history of displacement, catastrophic starvation, and nuclear experiments as a republic of the Soviet Union, where a policy of russification insured that younger generations grew up knowing little or nothing of the language of their parents, even as many did their best to cling to a nomadic lifestyle, pagan folklore, and Islam.

In 1994 my family immigrated to Israel. Formed by a childhood in Kazakhstan, my memories of Russia were full of all the things which did not exist there: electricity, gas, water, food, culture… So that writing in Russian felt too much like trying to create something out of nothing, and Hebrew did not appear attractive because Israel somehow felt like a continuation of Kazakhstan.

The predicament is not easy to describe. It’s like trying to grow a third head so as to explain what the other two are saying. The fact that Nabokov possibly had a 14th century tartar ancestor – Nabok-Murza – does little to help tie it all in with American letters. It’s like trying to make the Mississippi, the Jordan, the Irtysh, and the Neva rivers meet to create an oasis where Walt Whitman, Hayim Nahman Bialik, Abay Ibrahim Qunanbayuli, and Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin can coexist in coherence and harmony.


Besides being an introduction to my life story, this autobiographical sketch is also an introduction to a poem which is an attempt to bridge between many worlds in a few words.


The Language of the Birds

Here, in a bower open to the heavens at the top, between these walls of orchid stems and maple saplings, dyed with regurgitated leaves of grass, I have arrayed a gallery of precious objects picked with an expert’s eye for beauty.

First to attract attention, a heap of orange leaves, so skillfully arranged they glow like fire in the sun, exaggerated by chromatic and symbolic contrast to a mushroom’s coal-blue gills: this fire does not scorch – the mellow flame converts without breaking, illuminating what sunlight cannot show.

From there, the eye is led across a chessboard alteration of wing covers and snail shells, between a spider’s outer skeleton and a hatched cocoon, toward an alcove strewn with lichen and hung with caterpillar scat, where everyone is welcome to crown the creation, as I, a nomad khan in Kazakhstan, in love with birds and words, who hopes to hear himself repeated in a winged soul, offer a crumb: “adam”, the Kazakh word for “human.”


To my mother,

Svetlana Bart.


About the Author
I have been published in Israeli literary magazines, like the IAWE arc (issue 22) and The Ilanot Review (a Bar Ilan Journal), as well as nonisraeli journals, like Contrary Magazine. http://contrarymagazine.com/ http://sites.google.com/site/theiawesite/publications/arc/previous-arcs-1/arc-22-extract http://www.biu.ac.il/hu/en/cw/ilanot/prose/bart.html http://cyclamensandswords.com/december_2009_issue.php http://www.cyclamensandswords.com/poetry_april_2011_4.php http://www.redfez.net/redfez/SubPage1.php?page=SubStory&ID=283