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"When the Whales Leave": Dr. Suchland Prepares for New Courese "Other Russias" with Yuri Rytkheu's Exciting Book

July 5, 2024

"When the Whales Leave": Dr. Suchland Prepares for New Courese "Other Russias" with Yuri Rytkheu's Exciting Book

when the whales leave


In preparation for teaching my new course, Other Russias, in the Autumn, I read Yuri Rytkheu’s When the Whales Leave (translated by Ilona Yazhbin Chavasse).


The class focuses on gender, racial, ethnic, sexual, and linguistic diversity in Russia – the largest country in the world. Rytkheu is Indigenous Chukchi, a people who primarily live in the north-most eastern part of the Russian Federation. Chukchi are one of the forty legally recognized Indigenous groups in Siberia – a region colonized by the Russian empire in the 17th century. Under Soviet rule, Chukchi people were forcibly collectivized, forced to assimilate, and largely separated from their traditional ways of life, including their relations with sea mammals and reindeer. The Chukchi Autonomous Oblast (Chukotka) was created in 1991, after the dissolution of the USSR.


When the Whales Leave is a beautifully written and translated story that conveys the origin story of the Chukchi peoples. It focuses on Nau, the woman who creates and holds the wisdom of her people who are descended from whales and humans. The moral of the story, however, speaks to the human condition and is highly relevant today.


Rytkheu is an important writer whose prose is stunningly beautiful. The book will inspire conversations about Chukchi cosmologies, human-animal relations, the struggle between greed and sustaining life, and reflections on Indigeneity in the ongoing context of Russian colonialism. We also will learn about the unique climate, geography, and significance of cultural survival for Chukchi people today.


I highly recommend reading the book! Along with it, you can read this interview or watch this video discussion with Ilona Yazhbin Chavasse (the translator) and read this commentary by Tytkheu about the preservation of language.


-Dr. Jenny Suchland


Sign up for Russian 2850: Other Russias this Fall with Dr. Suchland and explore less commonly known aspects of Russia!