Book Reviews

The Eighth Life (for Brilka) by Nino Haratischvili

The Eighth Life (for Brilka), by Nino Haratischvili, is 933 pages long (do not allow this to discourage you).

This page count is only the ‘other’ unusual thing about the book; the first is that it is from, and of, Georgia (not the site of recent, manic, US elections sagas; this is Georgia, former Soviet Socialist Republic and, since 1991, independent state; at the crossroads, like its southern neighbour, Turkey, of Europe and Asia). The wider world has not been familiar with Georgian culture. Australia probably even less so.

A New Yorker article (“Kitchen Companion”, of April 29, 2019) by Lauren Collins, about Georgian gastronomy, points to US slowness in catching up with Georgia’s history (home of the Golden Fleece [Colchis of Ancient Greek myth], of Stalin, of the world’s oldest wine-making culture [6,000-odd years], etc.] and recounts Georgia’s emergence into general global awareness following massive tourism efforts in recent years, the ‘discovery’ of Georgian food, latest trend in the US (Georgia was named 2019 “Cuisine of the Year” by a US hospitality-trend forecaster).

If the world is unfamiliar with Georgia, Australia, at our distance from Europe, must be deeper in the dark. It’s time to catchup with this fascinating corner of life. As soon as we’re free once more to fly around the world, I want to go there (mountains, Black Sea, Tbilisi, etc).

Meanwhile, there is Nino Haratarschvili’s 933 pages.

She is a Georgian Scheherazade. The ‘eighth life’ of the book’s title refers to the youngest girl-child in a series of generations of a family, starting with the great-grandmother. The narrator of the book is Brilka’s aunt, so, the second-last generation (I think).

Every member of the family, and those intimately connected to them, has a plethora of fantastic stories. Even if they’re embroidered, they are surely taken from life, and are ‘fantastic’ in the full sense of the word. All are woven into the engrossing story of Georgia and Russia (separate, but fatally connected) since about the time of the First World War, through to the present.
The history of the USSR as it relates to Georgia (and the world) is the inseparable fabric of the narrative. Everyone’s story is woven into the saga. The complicated patterns and threads are referred to in the book as a woven carpet. Picture an exquisite, precious, darkly coloured Oriental carpet.

I cannot reveal particular details, having returned the book to SMSA and, besides, there are so many, but every time I put the book down during my reading, I could not wait to return to it.

If you have felt daunted by the length of Hilary Mantel’s recent book (The Mirror and the Light, the third in the Wolf Hall trilogy), about the Tudor court and especially Thomas Cromwell, also 900-odd pages, for its sake and, especially, for The Eighth Life, overcome your caution. You will miss something wonderful if you do not.

Reviewed by Judith Elen

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The Eighth Life (for Brilka) by Nino Haratischvili

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