The Silent Steppe

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The Silent Steppe by Mukhamet Shayakhmetov

Translated from Russian by Jan Butler

Published by Stacey International, May 2006


Silent Steppe jacket

The Silent Steppe is an enthralling story of a family living through one of the most traumatic periods of Soviet history, as seen through the eyes of a young boy growing up in a family of Kazakh nomads. It encompasses the horrors of political persecution and famine in the 1930s, and culminates in the author’s first-hand account of the Battle of Stalingrad and his long trek home through freezing winter conditions after being wounded and discharged from the Red Army.

This vivid personal story tells of the devastating consequences for ordinary people of totalitarianism and dictatorship. Shayakhmetov describes scouring the fields with his mother for a few ears of corn, and journeying alone across frozen rivers in the wolf-haunted steppe. It is a tale which chronicles the extremes of human behaviour in adversity – from the government officials feasting on delicacies while those around them starve, to the peasants who share their last scraps of food with a young visitor,as collectivisation is ruthlessly imposed.

It is a personal story such as has never been unfolded in print before: a vital and tragic contribution to the history of the Soviet dictatorship, told with simplicity and the heroic resignation of one who endured it and has survived to tell the tale.


Mukhamet Shayakhmetov was born into a small nomadic community on the Kazakh steppes in 1922. He grew up as a child rearing horses and livestock, wandering across large tracts of land with the family group as his people had done since time immemorial. When the Soviet policy of collectivization was introduced in 1929, all of his senior relatives were called off to work in factories. In due course, he himself was transported to a camp. He was conscripted to fight for the Red Army in Stalingrad, and returned after the war at the age of 21. He trained as a teacher, went on to took part in the Second World War. Since then he has taught in schools in Kazakhstan, and played an active role in national education policy.


Jan Butler lived and worked as a translator in Moscow for thirteen years, from 1974-1987, specialising in translations of twentieth-century Russian fiction and particularly, short stories and novellas by Yuri Olesha, Vasily Belov, Alexander Gryn, Fazil Iskander, Yuri Nagibin, Yuri Reuthei, Viktoria Tokareva, Magarita Shaginyan, poems and articles by Yevgeny Yevtushenko, the Armenian poet Georg Emin and Georgian novelist Nodar Dumbadze. She also translated city guides of Moscow, Lvov, Vilnius, Irkutsk and Lake Baikal, a history of Russian folk art and a great many books for children. Her translations also appeared in the monthly journal ‘Soviet Literarture’ and the periodical of the Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church.


The Silent Steppe was launched on Wednesday 21 June at Royal Overseas League with a talk from Jan Butler and Questions and Answers with author Mukhamet Shayakhmetov.


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