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I'm looking for a novel about a man working as a train station manager in Kazakhstan. The train station is in a remote location in a plains environment, and only rarely do trains pass. He works and lives there alone with his wife. The story's time setting is some time between the second world war and the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The station was used during the war to transport weapons and other war time material, but now it is all but forgotten.

There is a recurring mantra in the book that goes something like "From west to east the track goes", and then something about the wind and the plains. It is repeated several times, possibly every chapter. The climate is very harsh, with lots of wind, and cold, snowy winters. It is made clear that life is very rough there, but that he knows nothing else.

The main character also has a herd of camels, where the leader camel (a male) is his favorite. He describes it as strong and majestic, with a hot temperament. He rides it at least once, and it can run further and at greater speeds than other camels. I think its color is black.

He has a wife as well, at least for part of the story, but I can't remember if he has children. A few times he travels to a nearby city, and I think he goes there with his wife at one time, or possibly that he met his wife during one of the trips.

I have a vague memory of a UFO as well. That he saw a vision of one landing close by, or that the aliens communicated with him. I'm not 100% sure of this memory, it might come from other books I read around the same time.

I don't know anything about the author or original language. I read it in English or Swedish around 2010 (+-2 years).

Help me Literature StackExchange, you're my only hope.

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Probably this is The Day Lasts More Than a Hundred Years by the Kyrgyz author Chingiz Aitmatov. Quoting from one of the Goodreads reviews:

The novel begins with Yedigei learning about the death of his longtime friend, Kazangap. All of Kazangap's crucial relatives have been forewarned of his impending death, and it is decided to set off to bury him the next day. To the consternation of his son, Sabitzhan, who is indifferent toward his father's burial, it is decided to travel across the Sarozek to the Ana-Beiit cemetery in order to bury Kazangap. The procession promptly leaves the next morning, and experiences that took place throughout Yedigei's lifetime, as well as various Sarozek legends, are recollected.

Initially, Yedigei recalls how he had fought in World War II but had been dismissed from duty due to shell shock. As a result, he was sent to work on the railway. Through his work, he met Kazangap, who convinced him to move to what would become his permanent home, the remote Boranly-Burannyi junction, from which he gained his namesake. Kazangap and Yedigei become dear friends, and Kazangap eventually gives Yedigei the gift of a camel, named Karanar, which becomes legendary across the Sarozek because of its strength and vitality.

At the end of 1951, Abutalip and Zaripa Kuttybaev move to Boranly-Burranyi junction with their two young sons. They initially have a hard time adjusting to living on the Sarozek because of the harsh environment; however, they eventually become adjusted. Before relocating, both had been school teachers. Abutalip also fought in the war and had been taken prisoner by the Germans, but he escaped and fought with the Yugoslav partisan army. Nevertheless, upon his return to the Soviet Union he still retained the stigma of having been a prisoner of war and was often relocated because of political reasons.

Set in Kazakhstan, check. Set between WW2 and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, check. Man working at a remote railway station, check. A majestic camel, check. Space missions are involved (potentially UFOs, but the reviews avoid spoilers), check. It was first published (in Russian) in 1980, and has been translated into English at least. The book also has a Wikipedia page.

I found this by searching fiction novel kazakh train station camel in Google.

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  • Yes, it must be right. It's strange which details the mind chooses to remember. Thanks a lot! (Big Wheel of Time fan btw) – gris_martin Sep 21 at 23:12
  • @gris_martin Happy to help! Thank you for introducing me to what looks like an interesting book and author. Maybe I'll propose a Kyrgyz topic challenge at some point :-) Hope to see more of your posts here - maybe in wheel-of-time? - this was a really good and detailed story-ID question. – Rand al'Thor Sep 22 at 7:25

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