Hearing Birds Fly: A Nomadic Year in Mongolia

HEARING BIRDS FLY is Louisa Waugh’s passionate account of working in a remote Mongolian mountain village, and the lives of the neighbours and friends she lived alongside.

After two years in the Mongolian Capital, Ulan Bataar, the coldest capital city on earth, Louisa yearned to spend time on the Mongol steppe, the vast open wind-swept spaces with the sparsest population anywhere in the world. Several months of searching finally sees her invited to teach in Tsengel, a village in the far West of Mongolia, set amidst the Altai mountains near the border with neighbouring Kazakhstan.

Her story of her year in Tsengel, which means”Delight”, transports the reader to this isolated outcrop where the elements impose a parched, raw beauty and a daily struggle to survive heart-stopping changes of seasons, amidst a community of hunters and herders who dance the night away on a Saturday in a their own local “Klub,” hunt wolves with eagles, and still live in fear of the Bubonic plague striking them down.

Louisa struggles and thrives in Tsengel, as the community of villagers survive winter, and the even tougher challenges of a long, parched spring with shortages of food, animals and hope. She makes friends, occasionally enemies, celebrates and mourns as people around her love, marry, dance, drink, give birth and die.

The back-drop of the extraordinary tough beauty of Tsengel, its unyielding traditions, and rare moments of abandonment and joy, make this a powerful and compelling first book from a woman who shares her mistakes, insights, hangovers and above all her joy at living in setting where life has “Been whittled down to its essence, like the core of a fruit.”

HEARING BIRDS FLY won the inaugural 2004 Ondaatje Award and was shortlisted for the Thomas Cook Travel Book of the Year prize.

Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group (January 1, 2003)
ISBN-13: 978-0349115801

With a skill and art quite extraordinary for a first book … the reader is drawn into the world she describes through the warmth of her friendships and the sympathy and generosity with which she treats all aspects of her subject. I put the book down finally with a sense of absolute satisfaction, having spent the last few hours beneath the spell of a writer of real integrity and power — Chris Stewart

Her great strength is telling the villagers’ stories, which she does with an engaging blend of charm, directness, humour and awe at the power of nature….. – TLS

An elegy to a remarkable part of the world. — SUNDAY TIMES

Waugh has captured the starkly beautiful landscapes in restrained descriptive passages, but the most fascinating aspect of her narrative is her portrayal of the villagers and the nomads she meets higher up the mountains… HEARING BIRDS FLY is an extraordinary glimpse into a forgotten culture — OBSERVER

Comments

  1. Mandy Orr says:

    Jan sent me the link to your website – good to be able to keep up with your travels through your blog. I have to tell you I read Hearing Birds Fly when it came out, in fact quite a few of us did because we had relatives living in the Gobi Desert at the time. Your story added another dimension to their experience…. and all the time you were in Edinburgh I didn’t connect you with this book… duh! Good luck with Meet me in Gaza. Mandy

  2. Laura Pank says:

    I have loved reading your book and am about to buy it for two young friends who have visited Mongolia and I know will love it too.
    You are so respectful of the country and the people you live with, quite unlike any travel book/programme I’ve encountered before. It’s how a good journalist should be, allowing the ‘interviewees’ to tell the story without imposing your own views. Wonderful, thankyou. I look forward to reading more.

  3. I just returned from a month of travel, most of it in Mongolia’s Bayan Olgii province. I never made it to Tsengel but almost everything you wrote about was familiar, even 20 years later.

    Thank you for capturing your experiences and helping me preserve my memories. Your memoir is both personal and universal. When people ask me what Mongolia is like, I’ll tell them to read “Hearing Birds Fly.”

  4. I just returned from a month of travel, most of it in Mongolia’s Bayan Olgii province. I never made it to Tsengel but almost everything you wrote was familiar, even 20 years later.

    Thank you for capturing your experiences and helping me preserve my memories. Your memoir is both personal and universal. When people ask me what Mongolia is like, I’ll tell them to read “Hearing Birds Fly.”

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