A UNIQUE CHILDREN’S BOOK ABOUT CENTRAL ASIA
A wide range of books can be found in the West about Central Asia, but most of them target adult readers, particularly scholars or experts. Very few fiction books from/about Central Asia have entered the Western market, and even fewer for children, despite there being so much about the region to fascinate and entrance young minds.
I am working to fill this gap with my book series, “The World of Barzu.” The series seeks to promote and celebrate Central Asian culture through interactive children’s literature. I self-published my first book, Orange and Blue: The World of Barzu, in 2017 and am now raising funds on Kickstarter to support the publication of my second book, The Riddle of the Talking Tapestry.
Each book in the series focuses on a specific theme or set of themes, such as breadmaking in the first book and embroidery (suzani) in the second, that introduce readers to the diverse traditions of Central Asia, their arts, crafts, and cuisine, as well as the region’s history and contributions to global culture.
The books center around a young boy named Barzu and how he experiences life in his mountain village. Through his daily life—speaking to his grandmother on her tapchan, building a “snowman” out of melons with his sister, and interacting with neighbors—we learn about his life as he does, through discussion, observation, and play.
My goal is to convey what it feels like to be a child in Central Asia: the rhythm of life, the sense of place. This is the key to cultural transmission for children.
The various elements of the books are all in aid of this organic learning process. The narrative and art are engaging enough to draw in readers as young as three, while older readers can dig deeper into the historical, linguistic, and cultural context in the Ethnographic Notes section at the end of each book. Additionally, kids learn through hands-on activities and questions for discussion. This structure allows an individual to discover Central Asia gradually through multiple readings at different ages.
An example from the first book is the section detailing how to build—and then cook bread in—a Central Asian tanoor (or tandur/tandoor). The illustrations detail the dimensions of these ovens and the steps involved in building one. The written description is personalized: the tanoor builder is Barzu’s own father and the process is viewed through the son’s eyes. This is followed in later sections by recipes for making different types of flat bread, activity instructions for making a plasticine tanoor, and, finally, a deeper look at the culinary and cultural context in the Ethnographic Notes.
The illustrations are, therefore, more than simply decorative. I have been careful to select artists native to the region who can evoke the sense of place through their work. We worked closely together on every single image to ensure the authenticity of place down to the last detail. Readers familiar with Central Asia will recognize the whitewashed trees and open-air canals lining the village streets, the stitching and designs on embroidered suzani, and the melons hanging from nets in Barzu’s house.
My passion for Central Asia is personal: I was born and raised in Kazakhstan, lived for a time in Tajikistan, and have traveled extensively around the region. Many of the anecdotes in these books come directly from my own childhood or those of my family. Now a United States citizen, far from my birthplace, I began this project as a way to teach my children about the way of life that formed me. I hope that children around the world will also benefit from exposure to the rich heritage and ancient culture of the region.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Marina Abrams was born and raised in Kazakhstan, has lived in Tajikistan and Russia, and has traveled extensively around the Eurasian region. She is an international policy professional with twenty years of experience in multi-disciplinary projects. Marina holds a B.A. in Translation-Interpretation from the Abylaikhan Kazakh State University of International Relations and World Languages and an M.A. in International Policy Studies from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey.
Marina is an active member of the Central Asian émigré community in the US, promoting regional handcrafts at local museums, leading storytelling sessions for children, giving presentations at schools and universities, and organizing other cultural events. Her mission is to promote multiculturalism, tolerance, and knowledge about Central Asia through books, art projects, and events.
Marina’s Kickstarter campaign is available here: