Reviews

Ispoved’ in the original, and known to the Tajik audience as Nido [Appeal], these “eight women’s monologues” reveal the liveliness of contemporary Tajik drama, as its translation makes one of its best-selected samples known to the French audience.  To his eight female characters, Barzou Abdourazzoqov (b. 1959) has given a voice and a stage.  But all are deprived of a name.  A middle-aged housewife has lost her husband to a young chick; another compensates for the absence of hers, often away on business trips, with an improbable “cousin” whom the husband befriends, as in a gloomy vaudeville.  The third woman relates how, intoxicated and raped as a girl, she was rejected by her family, and the downfall that ensued.  A teacher at University dreams to replay Lady Chatterley’s Lover with a young male-student of hers.  Out of distress, a woman teaches her kids how to steal for a living.  A high-rank counsellor has sacrificed her family to her work.  A prostitute displays an amused and yet disillusioned “digest of the whims and dreams of the male brood,” whereas the doleful mother of a missing girl hears the raven quote “Nevermore” in her dreams.  All are miserable, but none is wretched, none despicable.  And if each one of them seems cast after an archetype, they all owe at once to the figure of the Whore and to that of the Mother, which adds to the complexity of the characters.  From the poorest to the more powerful, young or old, every woman tells her story directly, but also solitarily.  None but the audience will witness their confessions, and the succession of monologues holds without there being any dramatic relation from one to another, without transition or didascalia in between.  We know neither where the action is set, nor when—nor is there any action at all.  The “most uninteresting town” the last woman refers to only contributes to the dissolution of the setting, and a few cultural indications—glimpses of the American dream in the remnants of a socialist bureaucracy—point out to a feeling of extra-temporal isolation: Tajikistan today?  The eight women will never even come upon one another.  But the sequence of voices, the literal cry outs of these women indeed end up in building a world of its own.

The playwright appeals to womankind as to a form of sisterhood.  The eight women are both indefinite enough to convey a sense of universality through their particular stories, and well-defined enough to appear strangely familiar—in fact deeply moving—to the Western reader, as figures one could have come across on the street or at the marketplace, anonymous and yet familiar in their most intimate pains.  We could imagine one to be the daughter of the other, the young girl to be the mistress of the housewife’s husband; all could be the woman next door.  They have at least one thing in common: all have been deep-down hurt by life, by the cowardice and treachery of men, or by the loss of a loved one.  On a second level, their confessions enshrine the stories of other women, folk or friends, who are not given a voice of their own in the play, but whose fate is nevertheless recorded as a mirror of the general state of society.  They live in an unsettled world, which, somewhat standing between tradition and modernity, is plagued by feudal conceptions of honour and bribery, and is also haunted by the mirage of a better life in the West.  But these women’s individual courage, their strength, prevents the play from sliding into despair; rather, the eight monologues build up into a cry for freedom and for life, as is made explicit by one of the characters who addresses the public in these terms:  “Misfortune doesn’t last—just like joy.  What does remain is the awareness of oneself, patience, faith maybe.”  Voiced by a woman, and addressed to women, this statement lies at the core of the double enunciation at work in the play.  In this sense, the play unveils its profound dramatic character.  Clearly intended to be acted out, the monologues are short, varied in style and contents, and even humorous at times—as in a reminiscence of the jolting style of a Molière play which the playwright adapted a few years earlier, That Scoundrel Scapin—, but never verbose.  Their succession intimates a meaning which will stand above the line of the script when embodied on stage.  Indeed, the actresses of the State Theatre of Khujand, directed by Abdourazzoqov himself, already granted the play its popularity all over Tajikistan a few years ago.

The successful whole appears in its best guise thanks to the virtuoso translation of the characters’ various intonations and voices by Stéphane Dudoignon.  He was able to lend each woman a different wording, a different phrasing, according to her original milieu and style, by alternating colloquialisms reminiscent of Céline and great style.  The French version of the play is thereby granted utmost intensity, as though these female voices had been articulated in French from the start.  As a matter of fact, the power of speech appears as one recurrent theme throughout the play, at least negatively though fear of being overheard, semi-lies, or dread of the destructive powers of hearsay.  Such is the wit of dramatic monologues, which turn a make-believe confidence into public concern.  Therefore, it seems only natural that Abdourazzoqov’s “women’s monologues” were issued in a collection specialised in foreign literature, without lengthy notes or critical apparatus.  Turning his back to Orientalist concerns, the Editor wagered on the theatrical qualities of the play to make it accessible to a large audience, rather than to restrict it to a confined circle of specialists.  We can only hope, in turn, that the play will be read and appreciated as such by its new audience, maybe even inspire French directors and actors, and that Stéphane Dudoignon will further indulge in translation, to make known other contemporary Tajik authors to the Western public.

Justine Landau, New Sorbonne University, Paris
CER: I-6.3.D-606