Waiting to Be Arrested at Night: A Uyghur Poet's Memoir of China's Genocide (Hardcover)
Named one of the best books of 2023 by The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Time
A poet's account of one of the world's most urgent humanitarian crises, and a harrowing tale of a family's escape from genocide
One by one, Tahir Hamut Izgil's friends disappeared. The Chinese government's brutal persecution of the Uyghur people had continued for years, but in 2017 it assumed a terrifying new scale. The Uyghurs, a predominantly Muslim minority group in western China, were experiencing an echo of the worst horrors of the twentieth century, amplified by China's establishment of an all-seeing high-tech surveillance state. Over a million people have vanished into China’s internment camps for Muslim minorities.
Tahir, a prominent poet and intellectual, had been no stranger to persecution. After he attempted to travel abroad in 1996, police tortured him until he confessed to fabricated charges and sent him to a re-education through labor camp. But even having endured three years in the camp, he could never have predicted the Chinese government’s radical solution to the Uyghur question two decades later. Was the first sign when Tahir was interrogated for hours after a phone call with a fellow poet in the Netherlands? Or when his old friend was sentenced to life in prison simply for calling for Uyghurs' legal rights to be enforced? Perhaps it was when the police seized Uyghurs’ radios and installed jamming equipment to cut them off from the outside world.
Once Tahir noticed that the park near his home was nearly empty because so many neighbors had been arrested, he knew the police would be coming for him any day. One night, after Tahir’s daughters were asleep, he placed by his door a sturdy pair of shoes, a sweater, and a coat so that he could stay warm if the police came for him in the middle of the night. It was clear to Tahir and his wife that fleeing the country was the family's only hope.
Waiting to Be Arrested at Night is the story of the political, social, and cultural destruction of Tahir Hamut Izgil's homeland. Among leading Uyghur intellectuals and writers, he is the only one known to have escaped China since the mass internments began. His book is a call for the world to awaken to the unfolding catastrophe, and a tribute to his friends and fellow Uyghurs whose voices have been silenced.
About the Author
Tahir Hamut Izgil is one of the foremost poets writing in Uyghur. He grew up in Kashgar, attended college in Beijing, and worked as a film director in the Uyghur region. His writing has appeared in The Atlantic, The New York Review of Books, and elsewhere. He lives near Washington, DC.
Joshua L. Freeman is a historian of modern China and a translator of Uyghur literature. His writing and translations have appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, and elsewhere. He is an assistant research fellow at the Institute of Modern History, Academia Sinica, in Taiwan.
“A personal and moving look at the persecution of the Uyghur people by the Chinese government . . . Izgil resists detailing the violence he and his people have faced, but his restraint makes the descriptions of the police’s constant harassment and surveillance feel all the more Orwellian . . . In absorbing prose, translated by Joshua L. Freeman, Izgil recounts the process of finding a way out . . . A harrowing story of personal resilience and an exposé on an urgent humanitarian crisis.” —TIME’s 100 Must-Read Books of 2023
“Tahir Hamut Izgil evokes the fear and danger of daily life for a Chinese ethnic minority that has been the target of a brutal crackdown . . . Waiting to Be Arrested at Night is an outlier among books about human rights. There are no scenes of torture, no violence and few sweeping proclamations about genocide. Izgil writes with calculated restraint. As his title suggests, the terror is in the anticipation. This is in effect a psychological thriller, although the narrative unfolds like a classic horror movie as relative normalcy dissolves into a nightmare.” —Barbara Demick, The New York Times Book Review
“A lucid and quietly terrifying memoir . . . A lived-in page-turner with the slow, grim boil of a Le Carré novel . . . threaded with a few of Izgil’s short striking poems. Together they tell a story immediately accessible to anyone who’s ever found themselves tied up in red tape—and capture, in harrowing miniature, a portrait of horrors we can scarcely imagine . . . Read Waiting to Be Arrested at Night for its many human-scale moments of sorrow and grace.” —The Washington Post
“Harrowing . . . Waiting to Be Arrested at Night serves as one of the best available histories of the genocidal policies in Xinjiang since 2015, and is especially valuable as an on-the-ground, first-person account. The story is all the more powerful for the matter-of-fact way Izgil tells it . . . We can only hope that with this translation, Izgil’s gripping story and Uyghur literature generally will gain more well-deserved global attention.” —The Boston Globe
“Izgil’s memoir is a story about how to survive in, and to negotiate one’s way through, a society in which repression has become routine, and the power of the state is unfettered. The book’s restraint is also its strength. The tension in the narrative flows from the dread captured in the title—the dread of waiting to be arrested, to be vanished into detention, a dread no Uyghur can escape.” —The Guardian
“[Izgil] deserves to be read and listened to widely . . . This is a beautiful read. Izgil’s poetic gaze, and the elegant translation by Joshua L. Freeman, together produce a compact, compelling prose that pushes you to keep reading on, even as you blink back tears.” —Yuan Yang, Financial Times
“Compelling . . . A vital portrait . . . Remarkable.” —The Times Literary Supplement
“A powerful memoir . . . Compelling.” —Prospect
“Tahir Hamut Izgil’s remarkable Waiting to Be Arrested at Night . . . [has] helped me understand better what Uyghurs face under China’s repressive regime—and how easy it is to forget those who have disappeared into silence.” —Nilanjana Roy, Financial Times
“In his searing and beautiful memoir, Uyghur poet Tahir Hamut Izgil recalls the onslaught of CCP repression . . . Heart-wrenching but beautifully written.” —The Telegraph
“Waiting to Be Arrested at Night is so much more than a thrilling account of a great escape. It is nothing less than a call to the West not to look away from one of the most terrible genocides of our times.” —The Times (UK)
“Astonishing . . . Interspersed throughout the narrative are flashes of Izgil’s stunning poetry, much of it themed around diasporic rootlessness. This is a spellbinding account of personal resilience and an eye-opening exposé on the humanitarian crisis in Xinjiang.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“[Waiting to Be Arrested at Night] is lyrical, heartfelt, and perfectly paced; the narrative unfolds with a slow, simmering burn. Never shying away from vulnerability, the author shines a much-needed light on the complex, contradictory emotions of trading a homeland for a lifetime of both safety and survivor’s guilt. A profoundly moving memoir about China’s oppression of the Uyghurs.” —Kirkus (starred review)
“Beautifully written . . . Izgil’s writing is vivid, made even more so by the inclusion of a few of his haunting, startling poems . . . Knowing that there are so many stories we will not ever hear, it feels essential to pay attention to the words of those like Izgil who manage to make it out.” —BookPage (starred review)
“An essential testimony to one of the defining crimes against humanity of the twenty-first century so far: China’s gradually accelerating, systematic, sinisterly bureaucratic and high-tech campaign to make the Uyghur minority disappear. The poet Tahir Hamut Izgil is one of the few Uyghurs who escaped just in time to tell us.” —Philip Gourevitch, author of We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families
“Among our scattered glimpses of the Uyghur catastrophe in China—the digital surveillance, the mass arrests, the reeducation camps—it seems impossible to imagine the survival of any individual creative sensibility. But Tahir Hamut Izgil is a rare artist. He records in vivid detail his fear, his resourcefulness, his loss, and his survivor’s guilt—the full emotional arc of a poet in flight and exile. Even if we can’t comprehend why this tragedy is happening in Xinjiang, Tahir reminds us why it matters.” —Peter Hessler, author of River Town
“This is an exceptionally powerful, profoundly lyrical, and beautifully translated book—I urge you to read it. It illuminates, in unforgettable human detail and complexity, the current Chinese government’s assault on Uyghur society and culture, and the urgent humanitarian crisis it has generated.” —Julia Lovell, author of Maoism: A Global History
“Waiting to Be Arrested at Night is a terrifying, compelling read of one family’s efforts to escape the jaws that were closing around them and millions of others in China’s far western region of Xinjiang. Drawing the reader into a vortex of fear and suspicion, Izgil has put forth a narrative that reads like a horror novel but is more disturbing because it tells a true story of out-of-control authoritarianism. Highly recommended for general readers and anyone seeking a readable first-person account of China’s surveillance state.” —Ian Johnson, winner of the Pulitzer Prize
“Tahir Hamut Izgil’s gripping book evokes haunting memories of the terror and persecution he endured in his homeland, where dreams are turned into nightmares. Despite the gravity of his account, Izgil’s writing remains serene and sincere; his stories are engaging and evoke empathy. To call this merely ‘a good book’ is an understatement—it is essential reading.” —Ai Weiwei, author of 1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows
“I was riveted and chastened by Tahir Hamut Izgil’s memoir of surveillance, internment, violent persecution, and miraculous flight. The humanitarian crisis affecting China’s Uyghur citizens is an indictment of all nations and all people. Izgil’s crystalline, courageous prose is a wake-up call for everyone invested in the myth—and also the possibility—of freedom.” —Tracy K. Smith, former poet laureate of the United States
“A vital and urgent book about the tragedy of the Uyghur people, abandoned by the world and brutally oppressed by the Chinese government. Waiting to Be Arrested at Night addresses all of the horror and pain of everyday living under occupation, without any rights, without any voice, in the 21st century. This is why the voice of Tahir Hamut Izgil is one that must be heard.” —Janine di Giovanni, author of The Morning They Came For Us
“Elegiac and deeply courageous, a most powerful literary indictment of the unfettered power of the state. A remarkable book.” —Philippe Sands, author of East West Street
“Tahir Hamut Izgil’s powerful and poignant memoir is an instant classic. He lays bare the vicious genocidal persecution of the precious Uyghur people in a very personal and persuasive way. His grand poetic temperament exemplifies the unstoppable resilience of the rich Uyghur soul.” —Cornel West, author of Democracy Matters