The Dead Lake by Hamid Ismailov

the dead lake

In The Dead Lake, we meet Yerzhan, a boy growing up in a remote part of Kazakhstan, where there are only two family living in two houses. His body stops growing and keeps the look of a 10 years old. How does he get into this problem? What happens when his childhood sweetheart grows up and he stays the same?

After The Sibyl and from reading The Dead Lake’s blurb, I was expecting the tone to be more fairy tale like, but it is mostly grounded in realism, which I was slightly disappointed about. I found the beginning to be a bit slow, though with only 120 pages the pace started to pick up halfway through.

The book is told in a collection of vignettes, so it could feel a bit disjointed at times. I’m not sure whether it was the combination of the foreign hard-to-pronounce character names, translation, and the vignettes style, but I felt the reading didn’t flow as well as most books written originally in English. I have not read translated works for a while, so that might be one of the reasons.

I quite liked the second half of the book, but at the end, I’m not sure what the book is about. Is it sociopolitical commentary on nuclear experiments? Is the physical effect that happens to Yerzhan something that happens in real life? (I never heard of it before) Is the book a mere coming-of-age? Is it an exotic tale of two families living in a very remote area? What is the purpose of the book? I think this probably would work well as a book group book, as I had questions after finishing and wished I had someone to discuss the book with.

This is my first Peirene Press books, and though I have some reservations for The Dead Lake, I look forward to reading more Peirene books. The term “Literary Cinema” is dead-on to me. The after-reading is akin to the feeling after watching a foreign film – the feeling of uncertainty whether you get the whole thing, but that you’ve learned a bit more about life and another part of the world.

Mee’s Rating: 3.5/5

Thank you to Meike and Peirene Press for the review copy.

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