Sample from the Novel:
The Flute Player of Urumqi
By Jeff Carnett 鄭文祺
Ayse Altay, a 22 year old Turkic Muslim woman struggles to find the balance of tradition and surviving in China. She is unmarried and pregnant. Her community shuns her and her lover is determined to destroy her people. The saga that unfolds changes her life and the whole Nation.
Outside Urumqi, East Turkestan
(Xinjiang, Western China)
In the dark of the village I know it’s mealtime when I hear the horses returning to the village and smell the meal from the kitchen house. Like all of the buildings in our settlement, the kitchen shed is a pale tan color on the outside. The mud and dung has dried to a uniform hue. But the inside is magical, with the walls adorned with cloth banners of vibrant red squares surrounding spirals of yellow, blue and of course, green − the color of our faith, Islam. Large woven carpets of deep rose-red cover every spot of the soil floor. Always there are images of roses everywhere. It’s said our Prophet, Blessings be upon Him, smelled as fragrant as a rose.
The food, spices, grains and copious meats are set out neatly on the carpet in the kitchen shed. The shed like all the structures here are humble. Walls are made of dried mud and animal dung. Mutton, yack, goat in all forms are carefully prepared and laid out for the hard-working tribesmen and women to admire and consume. The women cook over the steaming pots and cut the meats until their faces are sweaty and their knuckles are raw. All along they gossip while the men round up the sheep on the way back from battle. The teenagers tend the sheep while the older men fight in rebellion against the Chinese occupiers of our land since 1949. Now, we hope our efforts will reap benefits and the Chinese will loosen their grip on our country. The Chinese call us terrorists. Father says we are freedom fighters.
The men unsaddle the horses and stand at the doorway, nostrils flaring wide to breathe in the air our people have enjoyed for thousands of years. The women make final arrangements of putting out the plates and pouring the tea. The biggest and loudest woman of our village takes pride in her role as she calls the men, who rush to wash their hands of gunpowder stains and horse dander. They gather around the fire to exchange stories of the day’s combat and struggle. They are all my kin, so they have not forgotten about me but certainly do not think of me. I stay in a much smaller house, colorless save for a collection of worn rectangular prayer rugs that give me just enough space to sit and sleep.
“You hungry, Ayşe?” Auntie Elif says.
“Yes, you know me. I’m always able to eat.”
“I will bring some yogurt and bread, then.” She slowly opens the door flaps of my house. I hear her steps getting farther from my house and stomping into the kitchen shed nearby. I strain to hear the comments of the other women when she arrives. I want to know what will they say about my unborn baby and me. Actually, I have heard their comments all before.
“Ayşe can pray all she wants but she is not married to this, this, man – the father of her child,” the oldest lady says.
“She brings shame to our people,” another says. “Imagine a bastard child in our pious clan.”
“You will not accept the father, so what can I do?” I say, but they can’t hear me. I didn’t plan to get pregnant this way. I never imagined having sex before marriage with anyone − it is against our religion and our traditions. I never imagined having a baby this way but especially not with a Chinese Communist Party member. They are enemies of my people. But it happened. I thought long and hard but I will keep my baby. I will reunite with the father of my child, somehow. I know we can be a family. We can be happy.
Elif pushes aside the thick leather flap that hangs over the entrance to my house. I have laid out a large cotton sheet to cover the exposed dirt floor between the tattered prayer rugs. I hope for enough food to settle my burning stomach. She places out a covered ceramic bowl of yogurt on the floor. “I honestly don’t know what your father will do to you when he gets back.”
“If he gets back,” I mumble.
Elif gives me a piercing glare. She shakes her head in disapproval then spoons the thick yogurt on the plate. I recognize my father’s eyes in hers, cold, but clear.
My father can be a distant, harsh man, but he can be kind, at times. For as long as I can remember he was away for long periods of time. When I was a child, he took me to the far west of our country, which we call East Turkistan. The Chinese call it Xinjiang. As a child, I loved being with Father. I miss holding his calloused hand even now, as a grown woman.
I know that he didn’t want to take me that day. Usually, I would have stayed with Auntie Elif, but it was harvest time and she needed to spend her time and energy harvesting the melons and wheat. Other women were cautious, no − afraid of taking care of me. They worried if I had a simple fall or had any other mishap, no matter how minor, Father would be angry. Father’s furry is something to avoid.
End of Excerpt
EDUCATION & EXPERIENCE
Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing-Fiction
Institute of American Indian Arts
Graduate Diploma in Eduction
Royal Melbourne Institute of Technilogy
Chinese Language and Literature
Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing
Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology
Graduate Diploma in Education
University of Chicago Basic Copyediting Course