(by the Georgian primitivist Niko Pirosmani (1862-1918))
So, my first text by a Georgian author, and by a complete accident it is Aka Morchiladze's (b. 1966) Journey to Karabakh (1992). Told in the first person by Gio, the 20-something slacker son of a businessman/mafioso, the story is a slangy slice of life, at least if that life includes a drive with a slacker friend from Tbilisi to Azerbaijan in a rattletrap Lada to buy kilos of marijuana for a dealer in Tbilisi, a drive through a Georgian republic torn by civil war(*) into a completely corrupt Azerbaijan,(**) a drive along ruined winter roads through roadblocks manned by militiamen like those in eastern Ukraine now. Gasoline is rare; not even the name of the Azeri dealer is clear...
And then things go really bad.
Totally lost on the mudtrack Azerbaijani country roads, they end up in Nagorno-Karabakh, where the Azeris were having themselves a war with the Armenians, and the Azeri National Guard take their money, car, identity papers and throw them into a cellar jail cell. That is just the beginning of the involved plot.
The adventures are interesting, but they seem to be just a support structure on which to hang what actually interests the author - the cast of characters - totally ordinary people stumbling around through life in a kind of daze, obsessed with themselves. Much like Gio himself. A rather normal good-for-nothing, he had fallen in love with a reluctant prostitute; his family stepped in and separated them. Gio then found new depths of slackness, which, of course, is part of the reason why he found himself on this harebrained trip to Azerbaijan. Circumstances pile up higher and higher until he finally takes the initiative. An initiative possibly based on a misunderstanding and one he apparently must pay for dearly.
A tale of helplessness and hopelessness, where moments of peace and contentment are soon challenged and denied and where every action is pointless or leads to paralysis. That this pessimistic book was a huge bestseller in Georgia when it appeared says something about the mood of the Georgian people at that time of turmoil and civil war which didn't really let up until 2003.
To give you an idea of the author's style and tone, here is one of the longer descriptive passages:
There was snow falling that morning. It was that sorry excuse for snow we get in Tbilisi, the kind that only looks like snow the moment before it melts into a muddy slush. That kind of snow.
(*) After the Republic of Georgia was spewed from the capacious maw of the ex-USSR in 1991, the country went directly into civil war. Like the African states formed at the end of the era of European colonization, many of the "Republics" of the ex-USSR were artificial entities formed for the administrative convenience of the Russians.
(**) The Georgians, Armenians and Azeris all have a mutual hate fest...