Wednesday, June 8, 2011

5. The Day Lasts More than a Thousand Years - Unexpected displacement

I first encountered Chingiz Aitmatov's The Day Lasts More than a Thousand Years thanks to a few great posts by the Amateur Reader. In it, I didn't even notice this sentence: "The Day Lasts More than a Hundred Years has, intermixed with Yedigei's story, a genuine science fiction plot, about alien contact." So basically, when I finally got around to reading this great book, the sci-fi story came as a complete surprise.

The camel get center stage on my edition
To call The Day Lasts More than a Thousand Years a sci-fi novel would be... wrong. It's not. It has a sci-fi story that, as the Amateur Reader explains much more eloquently than I ever could, serves as more of a metaphor than anything else. It's a book that could easily fall into that annoyingly titled "literary fiction" category - full of stories, vivid characters and strong writing. But it does, at the same time, carry within it, some curious sci-fi. Not particularly original, a little unrelated to the rest of the book and not quite enough of it, but it's there.

What is SAFL if not literature that incorporates science fiction or fantasy? Because that's precisely what The Day Lasts More than a Thousand Years does - it slips in this small sci-fi story without blinking an eye, without really letting it take over the story. And the rest of it? Wonderful. It's an interesting and different book, quite unlike just about every other book I've ever read. So deeply rooted in its setting (Kazakhstan), it completely displaced me. And isn't that what the greatest SAFL titles do?

2 comments:

  1. I am going to show my ignorance here.... What is SAFL?

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  2. Elizabeth - No ignorance! SAFL is a term I coined a few months back ("Science and Fantasy Literature") for a list of 20 excellent works of sci-fi and fantasy books that exceed those two somewhat limiting genre definitions and fall, in my mind, into the literature category. The explaining post can be found here: http://biblibio.blogspot.com/2011/01/it-should-be-called-science-literature.html

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