Mongolian woman puts her childhood on celluloid

Byambasuren Davaa and Lisa Retsch. © Unknown.
Byambasuren Davaa and Lisa Retsch. © Unknown.

Book: The Cave of the Yellow Dog

Book: The Cave of the Yellow Dog

Authors: Byambasuren Davaa and Lisa Reisch (pictured)

Publisher: Penguin Group

Reviewer: Amanda Ngudle

This is a narrative reflection from Byambasuren Davaa, a young Mongolian woman raised in a nomadic culture, now studying in Germany as a filmmaker.

On the edge of the 21st century, Mongolia remains one of a few countries that has retained its ancient culture and a nomadic or five-animal people's way of life is not the exception. The extreme climate and geography as well as their landlocked condition greatly influenced the Mongol's way of life - a life lived close to their animals and the land.

This they do by camping on the lands that offer the best grazing for their livestock. Children have full access to education and the author claims that literacy in Mongolia stands at 100percent.

To graduate as a fully fledged filmmaker, Davaa needs to make an authentic film about her upbringing, and chooses to go back to her land of birth. After an exasperating search she finds a family that best fits her childhood experiences. The family is headed by Batchuluun and his dedicated wife, Buena. They have three children.

Nansaa, the eldest, who ends up playing Davaa's role, is an innocent, sweet and strong willed 10-year-old with farming responsibilities that many grown men would find daunting.

I couldn't help remembering my visit to my mother's place of birth at age 10.

As Nansaa goes about her daily business, oblivious of the filming purpose, Davaa is gradually drawn to this little soldier whose parents have to strike a balance between treating her as an equal and setting boundaries.

The storyline thickens when Nansaa brings home a stray dog and Batchuluun kicks up a quiet storm about it.

He is concerned that because the dog was raised by hyenas, it is inevitable that it has the natural characteristics of the camp's most dreaded enemies. The hyenas who can gobble up three sheep in a week if the nomad is not careful.

This is an easy, enjoyable book, though the nomadic culture is awash with perplexing vocabulary. It's perfect for culturally flexible people who aim to explore the cultures of exotic nations.