Sunday book review – The Birds are our Friends by Yessengali Raushanov

This is an interesting book – a translation of a book by the Kazakh poet Yessengali Raushanov who died last year.

The book is organised by species, over 30 species of bird, many of which are familiar to a UK audience, with a few extra bird-related essays included too. One learns something of the folklore, history and present of Kazakhstan from this book and something of birds too. I enjoyed the insights into a country that I quite hanker after visiting, as much as, or probably more than, the content about birds. That’s not a criticism of the bird content, but it is quirky. The book is illustrated but not necessarily with the right species to fit the text. Does this matter? Probably not, but the Common Swift text is illustrated with Swallows such as the one on the book’s cover.

There is a story about a young girl who was swimming in a lake, and was such a good swimmer that she was given the nickname Dipper, after which we learn something of Dippers. I loved the mixture. And stories about the impacts of Bittern songs, and Quails, and tales of Pheasants in their natural habitats all held my attention. Which bird used to be a red eagle and helped defeat an army of elephants by dropping stones on them?

I enjoyed this book greatly, but the bird content was, in some ways, of secondary importance to the tales of a far off land sprinkled with quotes and sayings from ancient times including from the Quran. Except that the birds grounded these stories because I know more about birds than I do about Kazakhs, Uzbeks and Chinese. The Skylarks which visit the steppes in spring and summer sounded very much like the Skylarks that hover over our fields and in many ways they seem to mean the same to this author and his countrymen as they do to many of us. Birds have pretty much the same characteristics wherever you find them and so, it seems, do people, even people living very different lives with very different histories and beliefs.

The cover – slightly uninspiring, I’ll give it 5/10.

The Birds are our Friends by Yessengali Raushanov is published by Whittles Publishing.

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