Princess Nirgidma (prelude to The Mandate)


Who was Nirgidma, to whom I dedicated my novel Asaray, a Russian translation of which (entitled Nakaz Bogov) is now being published in Elista, the capital of Kalmykia? I shall try here to describe her extraordinary personality and her interesting life.

When I first met Nirgidma in Peking (Beijing)) in 1947, I was immediately impressed by that remarkable lady. Although she was a princess of the Torghuts, a nomadic people in Central Asia, she spoke beautiful French and very good English, Chinese and Russian.

She had received a western and Chinese education at the French nuns’ school Sacré Cœur in Peking and studied a wide range of subjects in Paris and Brussels, among which political science, literature and music. Her husband, a French diplomat, Michel Bréal, was consul-general in the former Chinese capital, where I represented the Netherlands. Among the diplomatic wives she stood out as an amazing polyglot and an authority on culture, both oriental and western.

She was forty years of age then, but looked much younger. A slender, charming young woman, whose face reflected a serenity which suddenly could change into a lively interest. An oriental beauty? Yes, but also western, for her clothes, gestures, and subjects of conversation were western, in particular French. When she discovered my interest in the history of her nation, which I had studied in my university days, we often spoke about Central Asia in general, and her people, the Torghuts, especially.

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