The story begins on the eve of 9/11, with the narrator's haunting description of the airplane attack on the Twin Towers as seen on TV while he is on holiday in Central Asia. Subsequent chapters shift backwards and forwards in time, but two main themes emerge: the rise of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan under the charismatic but reclusive leadership of Tahir Yuldash and Juma Namangani; and the main character, poet Belgi's movement from the outer edge of the circle, from the mountains of Osh, into the inner sanctum of al-Qaeda, and ultimately to a meeting with Sheikh bin Laden himself. His journey begins with a search for a Sufi spiritual master and ends in guerrilla warfare, and it is this tension between a transcendental and a violent response to oppression, between the book and the bomb, that gives the novel its specific poignancy. Along the way, Ismailov provides wonderfully vivid accounts of historical events (as witnessed by Belgi) such as the siege of Kunduz, the breakout from Shebergan prison - a kind of Afghan Guantanamo - and the insurgency in the Ferghana Valley.
Hamid Ismailov (born 1954, Kyrgyzstan) is an Uzbek journalist and writer who was forced to flee Uzbekistan in 1992 and came to the United Kingdom, where he took a job with the BBC World Service. His works are banned in Uzbekistan. He published dozens of books in Uzbek, Russian, French, German, Turkish and other languages. Among them books of poetry: "Sad"(Garden)(1987), "Pustynya"(Desert) (1988), of visual poetry: "Post Faustum" (1990), "Kniga Otsutstvi " (1992), novels "Sobranie Utonchyonnyh" (1988), "Le Vagabond Flamboyant" (1993), "Hay-ibn-Yakzan" (2001), "Hostage to Celestial Turks" (2003), "Doroga k smerti bol'she chem smert'"(The Road to Death is bigger than Death) (2005) and many others. He translated Russian and Western classics into Uzbek, and Uzbek and Persian classics into Russian and some Western languages. Ismailov's novel "The Railway", originally written before he left Uzbekistan, was the first to be translated into English, by Robert Chandler, and was published in 2006. A Russian edition was published in Moscow in 1997. His triptych: novels 'Mbobo' 'Googling for Soul' and 'Two Lost to Life" have also been translated into English with a grant of Arts Council, England and are considered by the publishers. On 30 April 2010, the BBC announced that Ismailov has been appointed as Writer in Residence for BBC World Service for two years.
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