When the Whales Leave
Nau cannot remember a time when she was not one with the world around her: with the fast breeze, the green grass, the high clouds, and the endless blue sky above the Shingled Spit. But her greatest joy is to visit the sea, where whales gather every morning to gaily spout rainbows.
Then, one day, she finds a man in the mist where a whale should be: Reu, who has taken human form out of his Great Love for her. Together these first humans become parents to two whales, and then to mankind. Even after Reu dies, Nau continues on, sharing her story of brotherhood between the two species. But as these origins grow more distant, the old woman’s tales are subsumed into myth—and her descendants turn increasingly bent on parading their dominance over the natural world.
Buoyantly translated into English for the first time by Ilona Yazhbin Chavasse, this new entry in the Seedbank series is at once a vibrant retelling of the origin story of the Chukchi, a timely parable about the destructive power of human ego—and another unforgettable work of fiction from Yuri Rytkheu, “arguably the foremost writer to emerge from the minority peoples of Russia’s far north” (New York Review of Books).
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Praise and Prizes
“Arguably the foremost writer to emerge from the minority peoples of Russia’s far north.”
“We have so little intimate information about these Arctic people, and the writer’s deep emotional attachment to this landscape of ice (today melting away under global warming forces) makes every sentence seem a poetic revelation.”
“Rytkheu immerses his readers in the fantastical landscapes of the Arctic circle, and does so without breaking a sweat. . . . His elegant, unforced descriptive writing can whip us across leagues of tundra and thread the jagged icebergs studding hyperborean seas, but when the blizzards hit and the characters are trapped in their huts, we’re snowbound there with them under the whale-oil lamp, chewing walrus and hoping for respite.”
“Yuri Rytkheu comes from a Uelen Settlement of the Chukotsk National Territory in Siberia and carries with his work the voice of that vast and majestic landscape . . . It’s sometimes hard to tell a fable from a fact these days, but in this case the fable states truths we shouldn’t ignore, like where we descend from and the legacies we leave behind.”
“Thousands of books have been written about the Arctic aborigines by intruders from the south. Rytkheu has turned the skin inside out and written about the way the Arctic people view outsiders. A Chukchi himself, [he] writes with passion, strength, and beauty of a world we others have never understood.”