Human evil and virtue are indeed Aitmatov's chosen protagonists, but his human characters come off seeming hardly more real than cartoon stick-figures, and his true heroes, righteous intentions aside, are the animals.
Certainly the principal message put forward in Aitmatov's preachings--a stern injunction against contemporary people's wasteful, foolhardy and thoughtless defilement of the Earth, and of each other--is a commendable one. The problem with "The Place of the Skull" is that the message is given entirely too much sway over the novelistic medium, unfortunately (and ironically) turning the latter into its own kind of oppressed beast of burden.
--From "The Place of the Skull"
Daylight brought a slight thaw, brief and elusive as the breath of a child, on the south-facing slopes of the mountains; then, imperceptibly, the weather changed: the wind blew down off the glaciers and a penetrating darkness stole up the ravines, trailing behind it the cold pearly-grey of a snowy night ahead. Snow was everywhere. The whole length of the Issyk-Kul ridge lay buried by the blizzard that had swept through a couple of days before with the wild rage of a forest fire. Such storms could be a terrifying thing, as the snowy darkness swallowed up mountains, sky and the whole of the visible world. Later the raging ceased, and a clearer sky broke through. Since then the mountains had stood in frozen silence, imprisoned and isolated from the rest of creation by a mantle of ice.