SOCIAL SCIENCES

Winter Pasture: One Woman’s Journey with China’s Kazakh Herders

Astra House. Feb. 2021. 320p. ISBN 9781662600333. $28. TRAV
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Multi-award-winning author Juan (My Altay) and her mother have a store in northwestern China that caters to Kazakh nomads. She always hoped to join a family and chronicle their lives. In 2010, she got her wish and accompanied Cumo and his family for a season in the winter pasture. Cumo is 50 years old, powerfully built, skilled but also argumentative, and drinks heavily. His wife is supportive. Zhada, their only son, is “their center of gravity.” They own 500 sheep, 30 camels, and 100 cattle and horses. Juan describes the backbreaking work of building a burrow (house). Herdsmen cover large distances with their herds, and cold is always present. Everyday someone must walk a long distance for snow for household water. Nineteen-year-old Kama sacrifices her freedom to work and relieve Cumo when he’s ill or needs to travel. From this experience Juan observes, “herder children mature slowly but age quickly.” Conversation is lively with meat-centered meals and endless cups of tea. People are surprised by Juan’s presence (a Han Chinese among Kazakh Muslims) and stare shamelessly at her, yet she returns their stares!
VERDICT Readers who enjoy descriptive writing about challenging lives will love this work.

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