There are many ways to tell the story of someone's life. Some stories, for example, focus on an individual's accomplishments; others on his or her important relationships. This article, a biography of Chingiz Aitmatov, presents his life within the contexts of time, place and culture.
For students: We hope this guide sharpens your reading skills and deepens your understanding.
For teachers: We encourage reproduction and adaptation of these ideas, freely and without further permission from AramcoWorld, by teachers at any level.
Common Core Standards met in this lesson: RI.9-10.1, RH.9-10.4, W.9-10.1 (see details below).
— The Editors

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—Julie Weiss

After Manas, My Kyrgyz, Your Chingiz

There are many ways to tell the story of someone's life. (See Classroom Guides "Understanding Perspectives in Storytelling a Life" and "Narrating a Biography"  for other biography-based activities.)  Some stories, for example, focus on an individual's accomplishments; others on his or her important relationships. This article, a biography of Chingiz Aitmatov, presents his life within the contexts of time, place and culture. When you read it, you will find yourself immersed in an account that reveals the man as both shaped by and shaping his world. By the time you read this richly textured account and complete the activities, you will be able to:
  • Connect Aitmatov's life to his homeland, and to the culture of Central Asian Turks.
  • Explain how historical events shaped Aitmatov's life and what he contributed to the history of Kyrgyzstan.
  • Analyze how a writer illuminates the content of a story with the form in which he tells it.
  • Write an autobiographical statement in which you situate yourself in time, place and culture.
Context: Place

"After Manas, My Kyrgyz, Your Chingiz" begins with a description of a place—mountains, river, village. Read the description. Then take one minute and write a reaction to what you've read. Your writing does not need to be polished; this is just a chance for you to note what struck you about this introduction to the article. Use your reactions as the basis for a class discussion. In your discussion, be sure to answer these questions:
  • Why do you think writer Alva Robinson began this biography with a lengthy description of a place?
  • What does the description lead you to expect from the rest of the article?
Aitmatov House Foundation
A family portrait of the Aitmatov family taken in the early 1930s. From left: a young Chingiz Aitmatov, his father, Törökul, and mother, Nagima, and younger brother, Ilgiz.
Context: Culture

The next section of the article might also surprise you because it focuses not on Chingiz, who is the subject of this biography, but on his father, Törökul. Read that section. (It ends just before the quote "Trains in these parts went from east to west, and from west to east.") Write another one-minute reaction. In the discussion that follows, explore why you think Robinson tells Törökul's story first. (Hint: What does the article say about the place of ancestors in Kyrgyz culture?)

Another aspect of the cultural context for Aitmatov's life is the identity of Central Asians, including the Kyrgyz, and their relationship to the former Soviet Union (USSR). Find and underline the parts of the article that describe what Chingiz learned about Kyrgyz culture and how he learned it. Also underline the parts of the article that give you hints about the status of Central Asians within the Soviet Union. Then, as you read on, take note of how his Kyrgyz identity shaped Chingiz's writing and diplomacy.

Context: History

All our lives are affected by what's going on around us. When people live through tumultuous times, large-scale events—usually beyond their control—may affect them profoundly. For example, as a young adult, Chingiz was in school, but the outbreak of war and economic hardship made it impossible for him to stay, changing the course of his life forever. Both Chingiz Aitmatov and his father, Törökul, have such experiences as their world changed in major ways. In the third column of the table below, write how each event affected the life of Chingiz and or Törökul Aitmatov. In the far right column, write how Chingiz and or his father affected the historical events. (The impact of World War II has been filled in as an example.)
Decade Key Event(s) Impact on Aitmatov(s) Aitmatov's Impact
1910s Bolshevik Revolution    
1920s Collectivization    
1930s Soviet attacks on "enemies of the people"    
1940s World War II    
1950s Death of Stalin; Soviet "cultural offensive"    
1970s Joint Soyuz-Apollo Mission    
1980s Glasnost and perestroika    
1990s Fall of USSR; birth of independent Kyrgyzstan    
Share your completed chart with another student. Talk about how the lives of Chingiz Aitmatov and his father were shaped by large-scale events. How would you sum up the impact that historical context had on them? How would you sum up the impact they had on their society? Write your summation in a paragraph. Compare your paragraph with that of other students. Have you come to similar conclusions.

The Context of Your Story

Think about your own life, and the contexts that shape your experiences and identity. Show yourself within these contexts either by writing, as Alva Robinson has done with Chingiz Aitmatov's life, or perhaps visually, with photographs, drawings and or a collage. Then share your work with the class. Debrief by talking about how thinking about your life in terms of its conexts has affected your sense of who you are.
Common Core Standards met in this lesson:

RI.9-10.1 Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

RI.9-10.2 Determine a central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.

RI.9-10.3 Analyze how the author unfolds an analysis or series of ideas or events, including the order in which the points are made, how they are introduced adn developed, and the connections that are drawn between them.

W.9-10.1 Write arguments to support claims in analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficent evidence.