Farewell, Aylis: A Non-Traditional Novel in Three Works

Farewell, Aylis: A Non-Traditional Novel in Three Works

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Akram Aylisli
Translated by Katherine E. Young

Series: Central Asian Literatures in Translation
ISBN: 9781618117946 (hardcover), 9781644690840 (paperback)
Pages: 338 pp.
Publication Date: November 2018

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The three novellas of Farewell, Aylis take place over decades of transition in a country that rather resembles modern-day Azerbaijan. In Yemen, a Soviet traveler takes an afternoon stroll and finds himself suspected of defecting to America. In Stone Dreams, an actor explores the limits of one man’s ability to live a moral life amid conditions of sociopolitical upheaval, ethnic cleansing, and petty professional intrigue. In A Fantastical Traffic Jam, those who serve the aging leader of a corrupt, oil-rich country scheme to stay alive. Farewell, Aylis, a new essay by the author that reflects on the political firestorm surrounding these novellas and his current situation as a prisoner of conscience in Azerbaijan, was commissioned especially for this Academic Studies Press edition.

Akram Aylisli is an Azerbaijani writer, playwright, novelist, and editor. His works have been translated from his native Azeri into more than 20 languages. In 2014 Aylisli was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in connection with his novella Stone Dreams. Mr. Aylisli lives under de facto house arrest in Baku, Azerbaijan.

Katherine E. Young is the author of Day of the Border Guards and former poet laureate of Arlington, VA. Young has translated two collections of poetry by Inna Kabysh, Two Poems and Blue Birds and Red Horses. Her translations of Russian and Russophone poets have won national and international awards. She is the recipient of a 2017 Translation Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts for the translation of Farewell, Aylis.

Reviews & Praise

Working from Russian translations of the original Azeri (two by the author himself), Young has given great attention to Aylisli’s unique style that combines elements of socialist realism, Middle Eastern and Persian tales, and social satire. Each piece is set in a different time and place and is populated by different protagonists, yet a continuity exists across the whole. What unites these four works is their engagement with historic trauma and the way hushed-up violence and wrongdoing are transmitted through generations, destroying not only individual lives but also the character of the village, region, and country that guilty people inhabit. … A writer, Aylisli teaches us, has no allegiances to a country, an ethnicity, a religion, not even to his own birthplace. ‘But he’s always responsible for the moral appearance of his own people, for the spiritual state of his own fellow citizens.’ And this writer has found the spiritual state of his fellow citizens to be in a dire condition. … As Farewell, Aylis concludes, it leaves a reader with a sense that an individual voice trying to resist the culture of violence is powerless against the status quo; nonetheless, Aylisli’s voice feels necessary and urgent.
— Olga Zilberbourg, The Common
Farewell, Aylis holds many gifts for its reader. The novellas are each stylistically unique but have a historical and philosophical sequence that both unfold and dialogue with each other powerfully. The characters are realistic: not ideologues, not angels or rogues. The translation is smooth and rhythmic, and the stories maintain their internal thematic consistency in complex ways that speak to the chemistry between the novel and the translator. A reader doesn’t need to know anything about Azerbaijan in order to contact the world of the novels, because the characters are relatable and they capture what we need to know in their stories. ... Farewell, Aylis is not a reactive novel intended to prove any ideology right or wrong. Ultimately, it is a work of the heart and a work of love and acceptance for other people, no matter their history.
— Ryan K. Strader, Cleaver Magazine
Reading Farewell, Aylis is like sitting by the fire at night with the older men of the village and listening to their stories, which in truth are the oral history of a people and a region, which in truth could turn out to be prophecies of our own lives. … In [the essay Farewell, Aylis, Aylisli] writes, ‘And I want to serve my motherland not as a patriot but as a writer.’ And that is what he has done with these stories, making him perhaps the true patriot who does what is truly needed for his country and not what pleases and flatters. One, however, needs to read him first and foremost as a writer and be enamored of the allure of his storytelling.
— Poupeh Missaghi, Asymptote
Aylisli once again reminds us that human blood can only be cleansed with words and the banality of human history can only be cured through the long brewed grace of great literature. Aylisli tries to bring the stories of cruelty to make one single human story where every one of us can see her or himself.
— Ece Temelkuran, journalist and author of The Time of Mute Swans: A Novel
Akram Aylisli has written of the tumultuous times in Azerbaijan on the eve of the Soviet Union’s collapse and in the immediate aftermath. Having lived through some of the chaos, corruption, ethnic strife, and regime change in Azerbaijan in the early 1990s, I can attest to the vividness and veracity of his storytelling. The next best thing to having been there yourself is to read this book.
— Richard Miles, former U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan, 1992–1993
In countries like Azerbaijan, speaking out against those in power or against the majority view, is not just an act of bravery, it becomes an act of great personal risk. Akram Aylisli’s ‘non-traditional’ novel explores what connects us across countries and across religions to ask not just what it means to be human but also what it means to be humane—and is a timely reminder for those in supposedly democratic countries of the way in which the powerful use the language of nationalism and populism to demonise minorities. His evocations of the beauty of his homeland are set powerfully against the horrors committed on that land, making his writing both love sonnet and eulogy—the kind of love that Aylisi himself describes as a ‘clear mirror.’ The world needs writers like Aylisli who are willing to take the risk to hold up such a mirror.
— Jodie Ginsberg, CEO, Index on Censorship
In the fall of 2011 Akram Aylisli, Azerbaijan’s most important writer, turned in a manuscript that he’d been afraid to publish for six years—this book [Stone Dreams]. … The book had the effect of a bomb exploding. Aylisli was the first Turkic-language writer to write a novel about the Armenian genocide that was deep, personal, and full of suffering. The book allowed thousands of Azeris and Armenians to see one another sympathetically, without hatred. And a huge number of people on both sides are grateful to Aylisli for that.
— Shura Burtin, Russian journalist

Table of Contents

Preface by Rebecca Ruth Gould
Akram Aylisli’s Lonely Battle for Reconciliation by Joshua Kucera
Translator Acknowledgments by Katherine E. Young

Stone Dreams
A Fantastical Traffic Jam
Farewell, Aylis

Akram Aylisli—A Writer for His Time by Andrew Wachtel
Glossary of Terms
Recommended Further Reading