This is an interesting, evocatively-written short book about the life of a young shepherd boy belonging to a nomadic people in Mongolia. Set in the 1940s, the book is based on the author’s own life – the boy has his name, and in the author’s note (which puts the book in context) he refers to the character as himself; reading this alongside a memoir with numerous fictionalized elements highlighted the existence of that grey intermediate zone between fiction and nonfiction. The author – who grew up in a yurt, was educated in Europe, then returned to Mongolia and became a tribal leader and shaman – has certainly had a fascinating life, though this book focuses on the narrow world of a child, consisting of his family, the sheep and his dog. The boy faces a number of losses in his young life that leave him questioning the divinity of the sky, which his people worship.
It’s an interesting book, and while there’s no overarching plot, its relatively short length and the variety of its episodes carry it along fine. The translation is fluid and readable, and the glossary, author’s note and translator’s note at the end are all helpful. The book didn’t strike any deep chord with me, but it did expand my mental map a little bit further, which is exactly what my world books challenge is intended to do. The author himself discusses this in the afterword:
“Humankind, which for me in the beginning meant my small tribe of Tuvan people, has grown larger and richer in my heart with the addition of other peoples. Now, the publication of The Blue Sky extends it for me even further by including the peoples of North America. I am mightily pleased, not least for these peoples themselves, whose world, in turn, will now include the mountain steppe of Central Asia, and whose awareness of humankind will embrace the nomadic people from that corner.”