LAND OF FORTY TRIBES by Farideh Heyat. Sima Omid, a British-Iranian anthropologist in search of her Turkic roots, takes on a university teaching post in Kyrgyzstan. It is the year following 9/11, when the US is asserting its influence in the region. Disillusioned with her long-standing relationship, Sima is looking for a new man in her life. But the foreign men she meets are mostly involved in relationships with local women half their age, and the Central Asian men she finds highly male chauvinist and aggressive towards women. Soon after her arrival, one of her students is kidnapped for marriage and is killed in an attempt to escape. When she questions the girl’s sister and her friend, they respond, “What can we do. It’s our culture”. This impels her to pursue a research journey to far corners of the country, gaining shocking insight.
Sima also explores the spread of radical Islam in the country, meeting with fundamentalist women and attending indoctrination meetings at the mosques. These reveal disturbing aspects of Islamisation in Kyrgyzstan and many of the modern issues that concern the disaffected religious youth of today. More generally, her observations illuminate different lives and cultures in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, in particular the position of women and gender relations.