In 2018, the novelist and poet Perhat Tursun disappeared into a Uyghur detention center somewhere in Xinjiang, China, where he is now serving a 16-year prison sentence for an unspecified offense. Between one and three million Uyghurs, including a number of academics, writers, and cultural figures, have been arrested by the Chinese government on similarly spurious or entirely opaque grounds. Tursun is the author of, among other works, The Backstreets, which never found a publisher in his homeland despite the success of his previous books. This extraordinary novel follows an unnamed narrator, who has left his rural village for a temporary office job in Urumqi, as he wanders through the night, the city smog, and his memories. The book was recently published in English, translated by the anthropologist Darren Byler and an anonymous co-translator, who was last seen in 2017 and is also presumed to be in a Chinese detention center. Byler, an assistant professor of international studies at Simon Fraser University and the author of Terror Capitalism: Uyghur Dispossession and Masculinity in a Chinese City, joins us to talk about Tursun and his mesmerizing work.
Go beyond the episode:
- Perhat Tursun’s The Backstreets: A Novel from Xinjiang, translated by Darren Byler and anonymous
- Darren Byler’s Terror Capitalism: Uyghur Dispossession and Masculinity in a Chinese City
- Read more about Tursun’s poem “Elegy,” translated by Joshua Freeman
- The poet Tahir Hamut Izgil, one of Tursun’s closest friends, wrote about the crisis in his homeland for The Atlantic: “One by One, My Friends Were Sent to the Camps”
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