Unveiling Empire: The Multiple Lives of The Silk Maiden

in Canadian-American Slavic Studies
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This article examines The Silk Maiden, a tale of heroism and cultural significance, as it modifies its messages and meanings across the twentieth century. From its Islamic underpinnings at the turn of the century, through the powerful tumult of Socialist Realism, to the national awakenings of the 1960s and 1970s, The Silk Maiden remained an iconic tale of loyalty and resistance. Despite its continued iconic status, the story also brings to light a relentlessly adaptive subaltern culture. First the tale reveals a remote world on the edge of the Russian Empire, then a culture quickly absorbed in the Soviet experiment, finally an expression of autonomy and independence. The social and political changes reflected in the story were mirrored in the medium as well, the oral epic became an opera and later a film. It is the story of modern Kazakhstan




Bhabha, Location of Culture, p. 222, in his “DissemiNation” essay.


Jean-Francois Bayart, The Illusion of Cultural Identity (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 2005).


Richard Stites, Revolutionary Dreams. Utopian Vision and Experimental Life in the Russian Revolution (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1989), pp. 61–164.


Rena Moisenko, Twenty Soviet Composers (London: Workers’ Music Association, 1943), p. 33.


Andrey Olkhovsky, Music under the Soviets: The Agony of Art (New York: Praeger, 1955), p. 265.


Kanabek Baiseitov, Na vsiu zhizn’: avtobiograficheskaia povest’ (Alma-Ata: Zhazushy, 1981), p. 129. For more on the impact of Aleksadr Zataevich’s opus, see Michael Rouland, “Creating a Cultural Nation: Alexander Zataevich in Kazakhstan,” Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, 3 (2005): 533–553.


Baiseitov, Na vsiu zhizn’, p. 130.


Boris Erzakovich, Muzykal’noe nasledie kazakhskogo naroda (Alma-Ata: Nauka, 1979), p. 14 for the precise classification of each version. Another prominent rendering was recited by Musabai-zhirau for Russian scholars in Kazan in 1887.


Temirbek Zhurgenev, “Boevye voprosy kul’tstroitel’stva v Kazakhstane,” Prosveshchenie natsional’nostei, 1 (1934): 19.


Mukhtar Auezov, Mysli raznykh let (Alma-Ata: Kazakhskoe gos. izd-vo khudozh. lit-ry, 1961), p. 437.


Peter Kenez, Cinema and Soviet Society, 1917–1953 (New York: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1992), p. 250.


See Richard Taylor, The Politics of the Soviet Cinema, 1917–1929 (New York: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1979), p. 64, and Jay Leyda, Kino: A History of the Russian and Soviet Film, 3rd ed. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press, 1983), p. 158, for more information on Stalin’s speech at the Thirteenth Party Congress of the Russian Communist Party in 1924.


Michael Smith, “Cinema for the ‘Soviet East’: National Fact and Revolutionary Fiction in Early Azerbaijani Film,” Slavic Review, 56, no. 4 (Winter 1997): 671.


Ibid., p. 297.


Micciché, “Cinema,” p. 300.


Ibid., p. 301.


Ibid., p. 26.


See Kapustin, Dialektika, pp. 103–107.


Georgi Stoyanov-Biga, “Bulgarian Critic’s View of Kirghiz Films,” Soviet Film, 5 (1976): 43. He adds that “their films possess poetry, wisdom, high drama, lyricism and epic breadth … Kirghiz films are a real revelation. They continue the literary tradition of Chinghiz Aitmatov and the folk epic tradition harking back to the ‘Manas’ epic.”


Andrei Plakhov, “Her Acting is Like a Song,” Soviet Film, 11 (1978): 35. Another interesting passage from the same page reads: “She is remarkably at home in the setting offered her by the director: the desert, the nomadic tents and flocks of sheep.”


Leonid Brezhnev, O piatidesiatiletii Soiuza Sovetskikh Sotsialisticheskikh respublikakh (Moscow: Politizdat, 1973), p. 21. Quoted from Seiit Bokonbaev, My nachinali ne s nulia … Kirgizskoe kino v sem’e mnogonatsional’noe (Kyrgyzstan: Frunze, 1982), p. 7. See also O piatidesiatiletii Soiuza, p. 15, for references to Central Asia.


See Neya Zorkaya, The Illustrated History of the Soviet Cinema (New York: Hippocrene Books, 1989), pp. 291.


Liudmilla Bogatenkova, Narodnyi artist SSSR, Shaken Aimanov (Almaty: Nauka, 1973), p. 13.


Amangel’dy Kairbaev, Vstrechi na ekrane: rasskazy o kazakhskom kino (Alma-Ata: Zhalyn, 1979), p. 36.


Kairbaev, Vstrechi na ekrane, p. 36.


Kairbaev, Vstrechi na ekrane, pp. 36–37.


Kenez, Cinema and Soviet Society, pp. 3–4.


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