Aitmatov became well known for his Russian-language prose describing the life of his own Kirghiz people. He was born in Kirghiza, in present-day Kyrgyzstan, in 1928. His writings include the novel The White Steamship; the novella Farewell, Gulsary!; and a daring play titled The Ascent of Mount Fuji. Although he was a member of the Communist party, his works did not follow the narrow canons of socialist realism. With depth and sensitivity, Aitmatov presented the Kirghiz in the throes of societal change, dealt very broadly with ethical problems, and took up topics that were generally avoided in official Soviet literature. With time his criticism of Russification and collectivization on traditional Kirghiz society increased. In 1963, Aitmatov received the Lenin Prize for Literature and Fine Arts.
Katerina Clark is Professor of Comparative Literature and Slavic Languages and Literatures, Yale University.