I did not like this book. I found the numerous characteristics distracting. Though, I will coincide that I probably did not read the book in the best manner. I read in scattered bits of time, sometimes for only twenty minutes and other for few hours. I think I may have gotten more out of the book I had had the time to sit down and just read it through.
While I do not think I was able to fully comprehend the book I do have a great appreciate for Ismailov’s non-chronological time frame and use of magical realism, and Chandler’s translation of it. I found the book very assuming. I was surprised by a lot the things I read, particularly the strong language, attention to reproductive organs, and discussion of bodily excrements.
Gilas to me is a type of “everyday cosmopolitan” environment. There are lot of different cultures and ethnicity at play from Uzbeks, Kazakhs, Jews, Russians, and Chechens, to Tatars, Koreans and a few more. So much so that you see an Indian film being used s the background for a story about an elopement in Gilas.
I also was really surprised to read about Koreans. Initially, I would not have thought they had a place in this book. Here is more info on Koreans in Central Asia for those who are also curious: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Koryo-saram.
While their were numerous italicized passages about “The Boy’” interspersed throughout the novel, I think the symbolic meaning of the “They Boy” can be felt in just one sentence: “An orphan’s father was Stalin, his grandfather was Lenin.” For me, the boy is representative of the implications of the railway. In class we said the railway is used to take people away from Gilas to work camps or wars. The boy is stands for all the children whose parents were taken away. He represents the orphans created by the Soviets.
Going beyond that I think the railway apart from its significance to “The Boy” is essential to the Gilas as depicted in the book. Everything is what is in by in large because of the railway. I know that is a broad generalization but I strongly feel that everything far as political and social interactions and actions founded on there being a railway, …“a never-ending ladder whose wooden rungs and iron rails lay stretched across the earth.”
Oh and on a final note, I was not excepting his redeeming “I love you!”