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Turkmen Writer To Receive PEN Award

(RFE/RL) PRAGUE, March 27, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Turkmen writer and journalist Rahim Esenov says he will receive an award from the PEN American Center for his historical novel "The Crowned Wanderer."

In an interview with RFE/RL's Turkmen Service, Esenov says he has been invited by the PEN Center to come to the United States on April 18 to receive the honor.

However, Esenov, who is 79, has been unable to leave the country since his arrested in February 2004 for allegedly smuggling 800 copies of his book into Turkmenistan. He was officially charged with "inciting social, national, and religious hatred." All copies of his book in Turkmenistan were burned.

Esenov was later released but his passport was confiscated. He signed a document pledging not the leave the country.

"The Crowned Wanderer" is set during the period of the Mogul Empire and focuses on Bayram Khan, a Turkmen poet, philosopher, and army general. Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov has criticized the book publicly for its "historical errors" and demanded Esenov make corrections. Esenov refused.

Esenov has also worked as a correspondent for RFE/RL.

The PEN American Center is an association of writers working to advance literature, defend freedom of expression, and foster international literary fellowship.

'The Crowned Wanderer'

'The Crowned Wanderer'

'A RULER WHO DOES NOT MAKE THE POET A FRIEND IS A FOOL': Having thanked the emperor, Bayram Khan declared that he would prefer to go on a hajj. And, with that, he felt a certain sense of relief. He surprised even himself: he did not want to linger in the court, in this cesspit, a single day more. That would have meant once again putting on the bovsug -- the tight-fitting, iron collar of a courtier -- once more putting on a face, leading a double life... What a pity to spend years, decades, merely to realize that, once a courtier, even a courtier of the highest rank, a poet must become two men. Here then was the reason why, once they take a position of state, court poets write very little, if at all – and that just for one person, the sovereign, out of whose hand the court odist eats and drinks.

But, at the same time, a poet can accept no system of power. As he serves that system, he curses his own weakness of spirit. But an intelligent ruler, aware of the eternally splintering nature of a poet, always aims to bring the poet into his inner circle, to sweeten him. Only, of course, not those like the unruly Ferdowsi, or the free-thinking Khayyam, or the wise Saadi, who penned exortations addressed to the shahs that only served to rile them. That is why there is the saying "a ruler who does not make the poet a friend is a fool; but a poet who seeks to make a ruler his friend is a fool twice over." Evidently that was why many poets, those with a sense of their own self-worth, had preferred the wild canyonsof unpeopled mountains, the depths of the desert, and the dust of the wandering dervishes' road to thedazzle and pleasures of the court.

Only now did Bayram Khan gain a sense of the wisdom contained in this philosophy, a philosophy that a poet seeks after through the course of his difficult life. Knowing that in this state he was viewed as a dangerous, awkward person, he did not waiver before making his choice: to go and worship in holy Mecca, and to hand out the fifty or so rupees he had received from the treasury to the poor and to the needy that he would meet along the roads of Arabia.

(translation by Andrew Gardner)

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