We are delighted to welcome author Dashdondog Jamba to PaperTigers. A few weeks ago I wrote a post about the amazing Mobile Library he founded in Mongolia some twenty years ago and we also featured a reprint of an article he wrote for IBBY’s journal Bookbird. Dashdondog has published more than seventy books, some of which can be read in English on the ICDL; he also has a blog, which includes translations of some of his poems, as featured in a recent Poetry Friday post. I’m grateful to Ramendra Kumar for putting me in contact with Dashdondog initially, and to Dashdondog himself for taking my inability to communicate in Mongolian in his stride – as well as for sending some great photos.
You have devoted your life to making it possible for children to have access to books. Can you give us some background to what Mongolia was like when you started out as a writer in the 1960s?
In 1958 the agricultural collectivization policy, which entailed handing livestock over to cooperatives, was almost completed in Mongolia. And even though my family didn’t like it, we delivered our livestock to the agricultural cooperative. It was a difficult time for rural herders to part from their beloved livestock. I clearly remember the moment when my grandma was crying about the “pitiable livestock”, and breeding lambs and kids were bleating and trying to run back to their shelters. Yet writers had written that herders had given their livestock to the agricultural cooperatives voluntarily. At that time my first book was published by the State Publishing House. I was 17 years old and in secondary school. From my first book you can only feel the heart of a boy who loves his lambs and calves. So I am always glad that I chose children’s literature as a career far from politics.
What changes have you witnessed, and indeed been instrumental in over the years?
For me who has been witness of two different societies there is opportunity to compare their weaknesses and advantages. I thankfully welcomed democracy, which brought us the freedom to think and have our own opinions. The freedom declared by socialism was limited, like wearing tight clothes. I can bear witness to it because I was considered as anti-communist and punished by losing the right to publish books.
What prompted you to start your now famous travelling library?
In 1990 Mongolia renounced communism and chose democracy with a free-market economy. During the privatization of property former children’s organizations were not taken over by anybody because they were considered as profitless and uneconomic. The formerly state-run children’s book publishing house became a private school, the children’s library became a private bank and the children’s cinema became the stock exchange.
Even though I had fought against it, my efforts didn’t work. Then I asked myself what we should be writing for children in this new society to read. It was unthinkable to present them with books written along the lines of the only way we had open to us under the socialist regime.
I felt the only place that could answer my question was the International Youth Library in Munich: so I went there. They gave me their list of the best children’s books. And I started to translate those books and published 108 books with my own money. Then I founded the mobile library and provided the rural children with those books. That is the most suitable activity for the nomadic life.
The mobile library was awarded the IBBY-Asahi reading Promotion Award in 2006. In your acceptance speech you shared something that you tell the children who come to the library: “After eating candies there remains nothing. But after reading a book you will have it in your head.” You said that, in the same way that children like to eat sweets from around the world, you would use the award to make it possible for Mongolian children to enjoy books written and published in different countries. Has that indeed been possible? (more…)