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Shakarim, The Life of a Kazakh Poet reviewed by Semra Eren Nijhar

Horace Mann once said, “A house without books is like a room without windows”, just as not reading the book “Shakarim – The Life of a Kazakh Poet” by Yerlan Sydykov is like loving literature and not knowing one of the greatest poets of world literature - Shakarim.


“Shakarim – The Life of a Kazakh Poet” by Yerlan Sydykov

A review by Semra Eren-Nijhar

This is the way I felt when I began turning the pages of the book which takes us on a journey of the great Kazakh poet Shakarim’s life and work. The book is not an ordinary biography, it is rather like a huge library which opens its door on Shakirims work, philosophy, writings, and his thinking on love, religion, nations, society and the world. 

Yerlan Sydykov has written a book as if the reader is sitting in front of a big screen and watching Shakarim’s life as a film which runs chapter by chapter without any interruption before their eyes. It is written with such good flow that it doesn’t leave the reader disconnected from the life of Shakarim. This book is not only a biography of the Kazakh poet Shakarim, but also of his uncle Abai Qunanbayuli who was a great Kazakh poet, composer and philosopher. It is a remarkable book on the Kazakh nation in which the reader even learns the achievement of Kazakh women in the society such as Nazipa Kulzhanova who was one of the first Kazakh women journalists. The book similarly draws attention to the ideas by which the Kazakh nation was trying to be established.

In Sydykov’s book, the reader can find him/herself located in the Kazakh nation and become accustomed with their beliefs, customs, traditions, music, lyrics, politics and way of living. It is a book which introduces to the reader the world history of Kazakhs. The history has been written from an anthropological point of view, crossing over into sociology, from there into politics and embracing Kazakh literature. By careful reading between the lines many disciplines can be observed in this biography of Shakarim which certainly this makes the book very interesting for the reader. 

Yerlan Sydykov’s book also opens a window into Russian literature and history by telling us how Shakarim was influenced by Russian writings and how the poet educated himself through the journey of the works of Pushkin, Lermontov and Tolstoy. It is informative to read how the Islamic philosophy formed Shakarim’s way of thinking and how he developed his philosophy by learning eastern languages and diving deep into the roots of his Turkic ancestors.

Many more thousand words can be written about “Shakarim – The Life of a Kazakh Poet” as the book not only touches oneself intellectually, but it also connects with the emotions of the reader. If I would have to describe the book in one sentence it would be: The book is like a big hall where Shakarim sits in the circle with all the great thinkers as Abai (his uncle), Tolstoy, Pushkin, Gogol, Saltykov-Schedrin, Lermontov, Nekrasov, Fuzuli, Nizami, Shakespeare and many more around him discussing ‘the meaning of life’. 

And anyone who wants to be part of that circle can have that joy by reading and the book. 

Without the brilliant translation by John Amor, the English readers would not have the fortune of going deep into the world of Shakarim. 


As Marcus T. Cicero said, “If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.” I would like to add the book “Shakarim – The Life of a Kazakh Poet” by Yerlan Sydykov to the library, as it will not be completed without it.


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