Hamid Ismailov is an Uzbek journalist and writer who was forced to flee Uzbekistan in 1992 due to what the state dubbed ‘unacceptable democratic tendencies’. A writer whose works are banned in his home-country, he is the author of numerous books including acclaimed Russian-language novels,The Dead Lake, The Railway and The Underground. The Devil’s Dance – translated by Donald Rayfield and published by Tilted Axis – is the first of his Uzbek novels to appear in English. Join Hamid as he speaks to journalist and translator Anna Aslanyan about this virtuosic exploration of culture brutally suppressed by dictatorship.
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On New Year’s Eve 1938, the writer Abdulla Qodiriy is taken from his home by the Soviet secret police and thrown into a Tashkent prison. There, to distract himself from the physical and psychological torment of beatings and mindless interrogations, he attempts to mentally reconstruct the novel he was writing at the time of his arrest – based on the tragic life of the Uzbek poet-queen Oyxon, married to three khans in succession, and living as Abdulla now does, with the threat of execution hanging over her. As he gets to know his cellmates, Abdulla discovers that the Great Game of Oyxon's time, when English and Russian spies infiltrated the courts of Central Asia, has echoes in the 1930s present, but as his identification with his protagonist increases and past and present overlap it seems that Abdulla’s inability to tell fact from fiction will be his undoing.