The disappeared

An outcast in Xinjiang: The Backstreets, by Perhat Tursun, reviewed

Like Dostoevsky’s Underground Man, Perhat Tursun’s unnamed protagonist is an outcast. A young Uighur in an increasingly Han city (Urumchi, the capital of Xinjiang), he is alone, angry, unstable and homeless. The events of The Backstreets take place over one long night, as he looks for somewhere to stay (‘I just wanted a small space – the space a person would need in a graveyard’) or, more accurately, somewhere to belong. In this poignant and disturbing short novel, the influence of Dostoevsky and Camus, among others, is clear. It’s not meant to be comfortable reading. Identity permeates the book in the same way that a fog forever buries Urumchi. Almost