About the Work

by munawwar abdulla

“A Letter from Afar” is a short story from a book of Memtimin Hoshur’s selected works, published in 1999. Memtimin Hoshur (1944–) is a prolific Uyghur writer whom I first encountered through films based on his work, such as Sarang  (Crazy) and Qirliq Istakan  (The Crystal Glass, referring to glasses used to drink alcohol). As a child, I thought these dark comedies were a riot, and the actors were incredible at bringing the slapstick humour to life. They served as a welcome change from other Uyghur films, which were usually tragedies or outright government propaganda. As I grew older and began to understand the social contexts of these films, I was fascinated by how well Hoshur could provide his insights and commentary through such unconventional narratives.  

Hoshur studied literature at Xinjiang University and was already making a name for himself in the literary scene before graduating in 1967. Then came the Cultural Revolution, where he was persecuted and subjected to re-education along with many other writers. After being released toward the end of 1979, he continued to be an active member of the literary scene and became known for his black humour, irony, and well-placed plot twists. He is celebrated for his stories, essays, and non-fiction books, as well as full-length novels such as Qum Basqan Sheher  (The Sand-Covered City). Unfortunately, it is believed that Hoshur was detained in a camp in 2018 for at least a year, and his current status is unknown.

Reading his book of short stories, “A Letter from Afar” stood out at first because I had no idea where it was going. Why was this man breaking up with his partner through a letter? What could he have possibly done to deserve death? Why, in fact, was this story being told through a letter and not in traditional narrative prose? I was fascinated by his depictions of youth culture, love, cohabitation, the ways politics shaped regular people, and even the natural scenery, during and after a time of social upheaval and chaos. 

Reading the letter, I  felt like I was intruding on a story that was half finished, shocked at the drama. Translating the letter, I  felt like I was airing someone’s deepest secrets. But these are secrets that perhaps should be known—they give a different perspective into a very unique moment in time and space; a small point of contact that will, perhaps, open our eyes to the idea of a more vast body of literature still largely untapped by the English-speaking world. It’s a letter I’ve stumbled upon in the diaspora, from a faraway place that has, for a long time now, kept its doors shut.


memtimin hoshur, an eminent writer of Uyghur fiction, was born in 1944 and grew up in the town of Ghulja. Hoshur studied literature at Xinjiang University in Ürümchi and published his first story in 1965. Due to numerous Uyghur-language film adaptations of his writing in the relative freedom of Reform-era China, Hoshur’s work has become a touchstone in contemporary Uyghur popular culture. Although his 2003 epic The Sand-Covered City  is regarded as his masterwork, he is most widely known for the biting social satire of his short stories. Hoshur has also worked as head editor of the literary magazine Ili River and held leadership positions in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region Literature and Artists’ Association and the Autonomous Region Writers’ Association.

munawwar abdulla is an Uyghur advocate, poet, and scientist born on Kaurna land and based in Massachusetts. She co-founded The Tarim Network, runs Uyghur Collective, and collaborates on projects with Uyghur rights organizations around the world. Her writings and literary translations have been published in places such as Modern Poetry in Translation, Asymptote, The Margins, and others, and she recently co-edited the anthology Under the Mulberry Tree


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