Archives for category: Reviews
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Fifty Russian Winters by Margaret Wettlin (image from GoodReads)

Wettlin, Margaret. Fifty Russian Winters: An American Woman’s Life in the Soviet Union. New York: Wiley, 1994. Print.

Maybe I’m a little bit nosy, but I’ve always liked books that give me insight into other people’s personal lives. When I was a kid, I read my way through the biography section of the library and preferred novels that were written in diary form. I read more broadly now and will accept non-realistic elements in my books, but I still love a good memoir.

Margaret Wettlin’s story of planning to visit the Soviet Union on a one-month tour and ultimately staying 42 years certainly resonated with me now that I’ve been in Georgia longer than expected. (But I have no intention of staying THAT long!)

I think the most valuable part of this book is her recounting of her experiences during the war. Though I’ve read a decent amount of material about Russia and the Great Patriotic War (/World War Two), I haven’t before come across any first-hand accounts of the civilian experience outside the major cities or of being evacuated. Her short time in Tbilisi during the war was particularly interesting to me. I found it funny that they found a cheap “peasant’s house” in Bagebi “five miles of climb from Tbilisi”(196). Bagebi BARELY counts as a suburb these days, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a cheap anything there. It was a good reminder of the huge changes Georgia underwent as part of the Soviet Union, and the further and faster development I’ve seen even in my few years here.

The greatest weakness of the book was also the most interesting part: Wettlin’s underdeveloped and unsupported political views. She never joined the Communist Party, but she certainly supported the proclaimed Soviet ideals of equality and reform. She even became an informant for the secret police in support of this dream, but when she became disillusioned that her work didn’t seem to be making things better, she quit. She is critical of Stalin, Khrushchev and Brezhnev because they made people’s lives worse, not better. She never would have gotten a good grade on a political science term paper, as she offers no evidence to support her beliefs…but who does, really? How many Americans could give real, evidence-based reasons to explain why they are a Democrat or a Republican? Of course there are many people who can, but I would wager that for the majority of people, it just feels right, as the Soviet dream initially did to Wettlin. Her opinions in this field really shed a lot of light, for me at least, on why so many people continued to support the Soviet Union for so long, despite the hardships they faced.

The book is far from perfect, but that’s a large part of why it’s so interesting. Definitely recommended reading for those interested in Soviet history.

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Waiting for the Electricity by Christina Nichol (image from GoodReads)

Nichol, Christina. Waiting for the Electricity: A Novel. New York, NY: Overlook, 2015. Print.

I read this on my flight from Georgia to the US, and in some ways it was the right choice for the circumstances. Slims Achmed Makashvili is a Batumeli in 2002, who believes that life could be better, and asks Hillary Clinton for help and advice. He is chosen for a US Government exchange program and visits America, but gets deported back to Georgia. Then (as those who know Georgian history will know) comes the Rose Revolution, and things change.

I was struck both by Nichol’s deep understanding of Georgia, and some very VERY basic mistakes in Georgian language, geography, and culture. I just couldn’t square this disparity in my mind. That said, though I certainly know a lot about Georgia, I haven’t lived in Batumi (I’ve visited multiple times, and have friends who’ve lived there, though); I don’t know any of the Adjaran dialect of Georgian; and I didn’t visit Georgia before the Rose Revolution. These facts could explain many of the things that don’t feel right to me, though not all of them. I’ve never been particularly good at suspension of disbelief, but I’m not sure if that applies to things like spelling and the location of Borjomi. This is probably something that would not even register to the vast majority of people interested in the book, even those who also read my blog, so  I can’t say it’s a deal-breaker.  I also found Slims’ frequent letters to Hillary hard to read…it’s just too soon. I’m usually a character-driven reader, and I didn’t particularly connect to any of the characters in Waiting for the Electricity, which probably made me less of a fan.

This wasn’t the right book for me right now, but there isn’t anything off-putting about it. Despite my quibbles, it was OK. I’d like to hear what others think, and see if they connected more.

Readers, have you read this? Thoughts?

Rosemary/როზმარინი

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Rosemary has taken over Kiwi Cafe‘s old location at 41 Vertskhlis Kucha, near Liberty Square

Now, before I give you my review of the new restaurant, Rosemary, I have to give you the disclaimer that the chef, Grant, is a good friend of mine. As such, I’ve had his cooking many times, long before he opened the restaurant. In fact, when we were living in the same neighborhood, my apartment had an oven and his didn’t, so he asked if he could come over sometimes to use the oven–I was not at all opposed. Grant is a professional chef back in the US, and he’s from the state of Georgia, so many of his dishes are inspired by traditional Southern food, but he’s using the ingredients fresh and available to him in this Georgia.  As such, some of the dishes skew more American Georgian, some skew more Caucasian Georgian. He’s also got local wine and microbrews on tap.

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Burrito night!

I’ve been to Rosemary three times now–once for pre-opening burrito night, once for a welcoming tasting party, and once as a regular old guest, so I’ve tried quite a few of the dishes. My absolute favorite so far is Rosemary’s take on the traditional Georgian ბადრიჯანი ნიგვზით (badrijani nigvzit, eggplant with walnuts). Here, it’s served as eggplant fries with a Georgian-spiced walnut dipping sauce. I also really enjoyed the arugula salad with cheese, pear, and adjika-honey walnuts. My more carnivorous dining companions have all given rave reviews of every meat-centered main that has come their way (braised pork belly, chicken satskheli–inspired by satsivi but served warm, and pork tenderloin). I have enjoyed all of these, but to me they weren’t as stand-out and creative as the other dishes I mentioned above. The draught red wine was good, and although I’m not really a beer-drinker, I’ve enjoyed Alkanaidze’s brew.  The hot mulled wine was perfect for a gray, rainy day.

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Rosemary’s menu on October 16, with a glass of Alkanaidze in the foreground

One small detail where Rosemary really shines is that they bring you free, chilled (tap) water as soon as you arrive. It’s so nice to get that note of American-ness (and also to be able to drink water with reckless abandon). I was also glad to have my dishes arrive as courses–first the appetizer, then the soup, then the meat–another small detail that’s often overlooked in restaurants in Georgia.

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Clockwise from top left: Badrijani Nigvzit, Salad Tbilisoise, Chicken Satskheli, Pumpkin Souffle

If you’re looking for a taste of home, or something different from the ordinary Georgian fare, but still distinctly Tbilisian, I recommend you stop in to Rosemary and see what they’ve got for you to try that day.

Tangerines movie poster (image from Wikipedia)

Tangerines/მანდარინები/Mandariinid

Language: Russian and Estonian with (teeny-tiny) English subtitles

Availability: available on DVD and Amazon streaming in the US

This film was produced in a collaboration between Estonian and Georgian filmmakers and actors. It was Estonia’s nominee for the Academy Award, and made it to the short list, though it did not win. “Tangerines” is a lovely movie about older Estonian men who don’t want to leave their homes in Abkhazia (each for their own reasons), despite the escalating violence. They come across a wounded Georgian soldier and a wounded Chechen mercenary, and take them in, and the film follows the political, ethnic, and inter-personal relationships and tensions that follow. This film was purposefully very multi-ethnic and multi-lingual. The characters ultimately learn to move past their ethnic differences and prejudices to help each other in an extreme situation. As one would expect in a film about war, there is violence and sadness, but my overall feelings toward the film were positive. The only thing I didn’t like about the film was the teeny-tiny subtitles (on the edition I rented from Netflix, at least)…I had just been to the eye doctor, who cleared my vision as good, and I really had to squint to read these. I had an advantage over others, though, as I can understand the Russian part, at least! (My Estonian however, is non-existent).

Two (Relatively) Recent Mainstream Novels about the Armenian Genocide: The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak and Orhan’s Inheritance by Aline Ohanesian

I’ve recently read two novels about the Armenian genocide and its rippling effects on the Turkish and Armenian families who witnessed it. One of these novels was written by a Turk, the other by an Armenian (though both the writers have global biographies). The writing styles and literary genres of the books were different, as were (obviously) the plots, but nonetheless there were undeniable similarities between the two books. Both were powerful and compelling reads. While The Bastard of Istanbul had a dreamy feel to it, Orhan’s Inheritance was more of a page-turner. Both are recommended, though the different styles are likely to appeal to different readers.

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The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak (image from GoodReads)

Shafak, Elif. The Bastard of Istanbul: A Novel. London: Penguin, 2007. Print.

Availability: Available in the US and UK, both physical and e-book editions; English editions for sale in Georgia at Biblus bookshops.

The Bastard of Istanbul tells the story of the many generations of the Kazanci family, particularly the women including their youngest member, Asya (most of the men have mysteriously or tragically died). Entwined with this family’s saga is Armanoush and her family’s own tale. Armanoush is an Armenian-American who decides to secretly visit her grandmother’s home city of Istanbul as a way to better understand her Armenian heritage. She contacts her stepfather Mustafa’s family, the Kazancis, and she and Asya become friends despite Armanoush’s (and her online community’s) skepticism of Turks. Asya’s mystical Auntie Banu becomes curious about the truth of the Armenian genocide and consults her djinn to show her the truth of Armanoush’s family…and later to reveal her own family’s secrets. A family emergency in America leads Armanoush’s mother and step-father to come to Istanbul, the stepfather’s first visit in 20 years, where Auntie Banu’s knowledge brings old events to a head, leading to shocking events that permanently change both families.

I particularly liked the structure of this book–with each chapter titled with the name of an ingredient that is used in Mustafa’s favorite food, ashure. The titular ingredient of each chapter also make an appearance within the chapter, and a recipe for ashure is provided in the latter part of the book. This dish even plays an important role in the plot. Other foods are also described in mouth-watering detail. This is very much a novel for foodies.

The author Elif Shafak was put on trial for “denigrating Turkishness” because of this book. If you like reading as a way of fighting the power, this novel is a great choice.

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Orhan’s Inheritance by Aline Ohanesian (image from GoodReads)

Ohanesian, Aline. Orhan’s Inheritance: A Novel. Chapel Hill: Algonquin, 2015. Kindle e-book.

Availability: Available in the US (physical and e-book) and UK (physical book); English editions for sale in Georgia at Biblus bookshops

Orhan’s Inheritance made many lists of the best books of 2015, which is where I first heard of it. Like The Bastard of Istanbul, the novel features a multi-generational Turkish family, though unlike the Kazanci family, the Turkoglu family is oddly lacking in women. When the family’s patriarch, the title character Orhan’s grandfather, passes away, his will leaves the family home in the village to an Armenian woman no one has ever heard of. Orhan travels to an Armenian retirement home in California, where he meets his grandfather’s surprise heir, Seda Melkonian, and ultimately learns her story which gives him the explanation as to why his grandfather has left the house to her.

Much more of the action of this novel is set in the past as Seda’s story is told. Her story is, unsurprisingly, quite upsetting, but Ohanesian’s writing is compelling, and I wanted to get through the tragedies to find out how Seda lived and learn the mystery of why she inherited the house and how she came to be living in California.

One thing I particularly liked in this book was the interactions between the characters from different ethnic groups, both in the past and in the present. All the characters had flaws, and many were prejudiced against other ethnicities, but in the end the main characters were all people and recognized the human core in others, even when they disagreed. In this way, Ohanesian makes an argument for tolerance, even when the past cannot be forgotten.

 

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The Chandelier at the Opera. Photo from agenda.ge. See the full gallery here.

The Georgian National Opera and Ballet Theatre (Tbilisi Opera) has finally reopened to great fanfare. Most shows have been sold-out, and it seems like everyone is itching to get inside and see the renovations. I was one of those people. Friday night, my friends and I went to see Swan Lake. While Swan Lake was a great choice of performance to watch, we would have been happy to see anything we could get tickets for that fit into our schedule so we could get into the building and take a peek. I’m the furthest thing from qualified to give a critique of the ballet, so I will just leave it at “It was pretty.” The performance was accompanied by a live pit orchestra, which always adds a nice touch. You can check upcoming performances on the Opera’s website (NB: I can’t find an English version) or see the schedule and buy tickets on tkt.ge. Tickets can also be purchased at the box office. The upcoming schedule features a Georgian ballet and a Georgian opera, in addition to some international favorites. I know nothing about these performances, but it seems like it would be an interesting and unique experience.

The renovations of the building did not disappoint–everything is sumptuous. Every inch is painted with beautiful designs, there are oodles of chandeliers, and the chairs are all velvet-covered. Leg room isn’t generous, but the seats are comfortable enough. The restrooms seemed to be the only place where money was an object during the renovation–in contrast to every other nook of the building they were not luxurious, but they were clean and functional, so I have no complaints. Throughout the hallways and in some of the smaller spaces there are exhibits of memorabilia from the theatre’s history.

My only complaint is beyond the theatre’s–audience behavior was quite shocking. I haven’t gone to the theatre in any other country in years (even before I moved here, I wasn’t living in a place with lots of theatre-going opportunities), so maybe this is not a Georgian problem, but one that has grown worldwide, but I was shocked to see people who had paid 80 GEL for the most expensive seats in the house who were fiddling with their phones on throughout the performance (they didn’t appear to be filming, which would have been even worse)–the glow was distracting, even from three floors up. The doors to the hall were constantly opening and closing, and there was quite a lot of loud talking. (from the adults. The little girls nearby were quite well-behaved) Despite the annoyances which kept me from being fully swept up in the performance, it was still quite enchanting.

I took a few snapshots of the decor, but they pale in comparison to those the pros took for the grand opening…so look at these instead.

 

I am an admitted lover of Georgian food, and there are of course many excellent options for that everywhere in Georgia (sometime I’ll do a write-up). Tbilisi, though, is home to a variety of restaurants featuring other cuisines for the times when you need something different. Foreign restaurants tend to be more expensive here because of the novelty–for the sit-down restaurants here, expect to pay at least 20 GEL for a meal, more at the really fancy places (but less at cafes!)

Asian:

Baan Thai: Is one of my favorite places for something a bit different.  It’s not as addictive as the Thai restaurant in my college town, but I’ve liked everything I’ve tried.  They’ll even deliver, so it was ages before I went to the physical location, which has quite a nice ambiance.  There’s another Thai restaurant in Vake (called “Thai”), but I didn’t like it quite as much.

Lemon Grass Thai Food: Though the name suggests a Thai restaurant, Lemon Grass in fact offers a wide array of international fast food options, ranging from Pad Thai and sushi to pizza, burgers, and even falafel sandwiches. With the feel of an American burger joint, the atmosphere is nothing special, but the wide variety of reasonably-priced and hard-to-find dishes make it well worth a visit. The Pad Thai is the best deal for Thai food in Tbilisi (though the quality isn’t quite as delicious and authentic as at Baan Thai), and it comes served with chopsticks for increased authenticity.

New Asia (Chinese): Is located just up the hill from Rustaveli Avenue, across the road from the conservatory  If you’re walking from Liberty Square metro towards Rustaveli metro on that side of the road, take a left up the hill after you pass Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf. It’s the last place on that block on the right hand side.  I’ve been here twice, and the food has always been fine, though it varies a lot.  The dumplings are quite good.

There’s also a Chinese restaurant on Gargarin square that I enjoyed, though I have also heard that the quality there varies drastically (and I can never get the name properly, since they use a nearly-illegible font in both English and Georgian).

Asian Takeaway (next to Rosemary on Vertskhlis Kucha) has just a small menu and one table, but they offer cheap and tasty Indian, Thai and stir-fry dishes, and even are rumoured to deliver to lucky neighborhoods.

Also check out Strada‘s Korean menu (under American/European)

Indian

Little India/A Taste of India (there’s a name change causing some confusion.  The building is labeled “A Taste of India” but they haven’t re-branded all their media, the website is still “Little India”): One of the best Indian restaurants I’ve ever been to.  The ambiance is lovely, with private tables secluded by curtains and delicious food.  Try the garlic or onion naan, and a curry of some sort (I got some version of peas and cream, and it was AMAZING).  On the pricier end of things, but oh-so delicious.

Shree Restaurant (apparently there’s been a name and possibly management change, I’ll update when I make it back there to check it out) is one of the many cheap Indian restaurants allegedly near the Medical University  (It’s the only one I’ve found, though).  It’s on Nutsubidze Street near the corner of Asatiani.  The mixed veg and chicken samosas are both excellent, though the butter chicken wasn’t our favorite.  Everything is made right to order, so things don’t necessarily arrive at your table in any sort of order that you’d expect.  I recommend asking the staff what’s good, they’ve never led us astray.  They scared everyone by closing for summer, but re-opened in fall.

See also Asian Takeaway, in the Asian section above

American/European:

Tartine (French): a cafe-restaurant with locations in Vake and Old Town with nice cocktails and salads. I’m not blown away by their lunch and dinner options, but brunch there is a fantastic deal–27 GEL for a hot drink, an alcoholic drink, soup, and a main (including service).  There’s also the option for brunch without soup for 22 GEL.  The huevos rancheros aren’t exactly authentic, but they’re tasty and satisfy the Mexican food craving..

Hangar Bar (Irish):  is the place to go and watch American sports. The nachos are good.

Café Gallery:  Renowned as Tbilisi’s most famous gay nightclub, Café Gallery, is actually open all day as a café which features a combination of Georgian and non-Georgian dishes. They make delicious sandwiches, salads, and soups at relatively reasonable prices. I’m a fan of the Cafe Gallery sandwich with a homemade lemonade.

Ronny’s Pizza: The best place in Tbilisi for American fast-food pizza.  The prices are shocking at first, but an XL pizza is gigantic, and it’s legitimately American-style pizza.  The small pizzas (personal size) are a decent value.

Pizza di Roma: A local pizza chain that makes something I consider pizza. Some of their toppings are questionable (coughcoughsulguniandmayonnaisecoughcough), but they also have proper mozzarella and parmesan, and all the item descriptions have been accurate. I haven’t had any surprise mayonnaise turning up on something that was listed as clean. The crust and sauce are good, so they’re starting in a good place. The pasta carbonara (made with ham, not bacon) and sea buckthorn “tea” are also worth a try. A real selling point for me is that at my local branch there’s a non-smoking section that the staff strictly enforce.

Ambrosiano: OMG this is the real deal! Imported mozzarella and toppings, truffle sauce–heaven! The crust isn’t perfect, but the toppings are so delicious it doesn’t matter much. Really nice staff, too.

Pita+/Pita Fresh: (name changed, seems to be the same menu and management, though): Discovering this place and their delicious falafel was one of the food-related highlights of Fall 2012.  Low prices and great food, but unfortunately far from my house.  I’ll be honest, I’ve only ever tried the falafel, but there are other sandwiches on the menu, too, like chicken and burgers.

Kiwi Cafe: a vegan cafe in the old town. Perfect location for when you’re being a tourist on a hot summer day and can’t bear the thought of heavy food like khachapuri and khinkali. Featuring an international, rotating menu. I love their food, because they make the type of things I make, but with some new twists. And I don’t have to cook it myself!

Factory 27: Cool atmosphere, and decent food. Offering some things that are hard to find in other places, like burgers, hummus, and nachos.

Pipes Burger Joint: The burger itself is good, but they’re still finding their way with some of the specialty toppings. I found the pepper sauce on mine TOO peppery (and I love black pepper) while the salad was a bit flavorless. However, they’ve got a great base (they’ve managed to get good meat and buns). Locations near the Philharmonic and in the Fabrika complex.

Big Smoke BBQ A few years ago this would have been the best burger in Tbilisi, but the competition is stiff now that burgers are “in”. The pulled pork was amazing, and I loved how generous they were with the fruit in the homemade lemonade.

Strada: Inconvenient location, but great menu. The American-style pancakes and waffles are a hit with me, and they have a fantastic variety of fresh fruit infusion “teas”. They also have a Korean menu that gets good reviews, though I haven’t moved beyond pancakes myself.

Localino: Locations in Vake and Saburtalo. Fantastic pasta dishes. I tried the pizza and it was good, but not memorable, whereas I have dreams about the baked cheesy pasta with spinach concoction I got there.

Rosemary: Southern food with Georgian ingredients. See my detailed review here. 

Middle Eastern:

There have long been a number of Turkish cafeterias on Aghmashenebeli Avenue. I’ve tried a few and they have been fine, though I don’t know which is which

Amira: though I usually try to stay away from the fashionable restaurants in Vake, Amira is a pretty delicious Lebanese restaurant. All the dishes I expect to see are on the menu, and they all taste like they should. Can get incredibly expensive quickly, though. You’re paying for the nice atmosphere and fashionable address.

Coffee

Caliban’s Coffee House: the coffee shop attached to Prospero’s Books.  I quite like their cold drinks, and other things are fine, though not the best or the cheapest in Tbilisi. This is a place to go for the ambiance, and to feel like you’re back in England or America (or Canada, I suppose)

Entree: Is a chain in Tbilisi with locations throughout the city. The coffee and pastries (both Georgian and French) are good (though they’re always out of my favorites!), and the wifi is usually pretty fast.

Literaturuli: a cafe chain that’s also a bookstore, with locations throughout Tbilisi and in some of the other major cities. They do decaf coffee and have pretty cakes, but their lobiani is actually my favorite.

Wendy’s: The American fast-food chain Wendy’s now has a location on Rustaveli Avenue.  As one would expect, they sell burgers and fries and chili and frosties (all of which are pretty tasty), the real surprise here is the “Wendy’s Cafe” which has a wide-ranging menu of coffee drinks at some of the lowest prices in the city (only 4 GEL for a latte! Wow!)
Dunkin’ Donuts has now also opened a number of locations and is expanding fast. Wendy’s and DD often share a building, as they’re owned by the same parent company. They’re known for their coffee in the US, and by Georgia standards their prices can’t be beat.

Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf: seems to be the only place in Tbilisi with chai tea lattes. Yum. It’s not cheap, but I don’t even care.

(Originally Published March 25, 2012.  Most recent update: February 28, 2017).

Heretics and Colonizers (image from GoodReads)

Heretics and Colonizers: Forging Russia’s Empire in the South Caucasus by Nicholas B. Breyfogle* 

Breyfogle, Nicholas B. Heretics and Colonizers: Forging Russia’s Empire in the South Caucasus. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2005. Print.

Availability: Available in the US and UK in physical editions; formerly available at Prospero’s, but currently out of stock. Check your local academic library.

Let me begin by saying that this book is a little different from most of the others I have reviewed here. This is a true academic work, not a non-fiction book for the general public, and it assumes a certain amount of background knowledge. Since I have a solid background in the history of the region, I had HEARD of Dukhobors, but I was coming into this book without much specific background information, and I found it fascinating. The writing is interesting and accessible–not the snooze-fest that sometimes plagues academic writing. The research explores the Dukhobors, Molokans, and Subbotniks (sometimes referred to in English as Spirit-Wrestlers, Milk-Drinkers, and Sabbatarians respectively) in the South Caucasus. These religious sects were composed of ethnic Russians, but they were not Russian Orthodox, presenting a challenge to the traditional idea of Russian nationality. Some were exiled and others chose to move to the South Caucasus, where the regime thought they would be less likely to spread their “heretical” beliefs to other Russians, but they could be of use spreading Russianness to other areas of the empire. The tsarist regime’s treatment of the sectarians and their legal status was in near constant flux. In some ways and at some times, the sectarians achieved great successes in their new homes, while the (spoiler alert) Dukhobor Movement and weapons burning resulted in retaliation and exile/immigration for many of the Dukhobors.

This was one of those books that raised a lot of questions for me and encouraged me to look up some more information and learn more. I’d be interested in reading a biography of “Queen” Lukeria Kalmykova, for example, and I’m very interested to find out what’s going on with those who remained in Georgia at the end of the time frame covered in the book. (I asked a Georgian friend, and his reply was “Yeah, there are Dukhobors in Kakheti and Molokans on Aghmashenebeli Avenue. They’re still Russians. I don’t know about Subbotniks.”)

This book is perhaps not something with widespread popular appeal, but if you are curious about the topic I strongly recommend that you read it.

*I studied under Professor Breyfogle, so you may consider me biased. I don’t think knowing him changed my opinion of the book, but it did encourage me to read it, which I probably wouldn’t have otherwise.

The Loneliest Planet (Image from Wikipedia)

The Loneliest Planet

Language: English, some Georgian (not meant to be understood), Spanish verb declensions (good practice for me!)

Availability: available on DVD in the US

I can’t really say if this film was good or bad. It isn’t really a movie, as much as it is a gorgeously-filmed hike. Basically, you watch Gael Garcia Bernal, Hani Furstenberg and Bidzina Gujabidze hike through the Caucasus Mountains and deal with interpersonal issues. It’s certainly an interesting and eventful hike, the scenery is beautiful, and the actors are good (some of it I couldn’t tell if it was scripted or ‘reality show’). I heard a rumor when the film was first released that Gujabidze was a professional mountain guide, not an actor, but I can’t find any corroborating information. Though this was his first film, he has also appeared in a 2015 Georgian film so he may have changed careers. This film will give you a good sense of Georgian “anecdotes” that just do not translate well. There was also a funny bit on swearing in Georgian and English, if you’re interested in picking up some colorful vocabulary. If you are looking for a fast-paced or plot-heavy movie, though, this isn’t for you. As for me, I did enjoy watching the film, but thought it was a bit long given the style and subject matter.

Flight from the USSR (Image from GoodReads)

Flight from the U.S.S.R. / ჯინსების თაობა (“Jeans Generation”) by Dato Turashvili  

Turashvili, Dato. Flight from the USSR. Trans. Maya Kiasashvili. Tbilisi: Sulakauri Publishing, 2008. Print.

Availability: Easily available in almost any book or souvenir shop in Georgia, in Georgian, English, or Russian. US/UK editions to be released February 2016.

The story of a group of young Soviet Georgians who just can’t take it anymore so they decide to hijack an airplane and defect to the West. This historical fiction novel is more on the historical side (per my quick Google research), and most of the fictionalization lies in giving personality and dialogue to the historical personages. The story was initially written as a play in 2001, while Shevardnadze (who makes an unflattering cameo in the novel version) was still in power. That was certainly a brave act of artistic resistance. The novel version of the story was published in 2008, though the play remains popular (but I haven’t seen it yet). US and UK versions of the novel are slated to be published in February 2016.

When I decided to start reading this, I didn’t realize how timely my choice of reading material was–I began just after the Paris attacks, and therefore the idea of terrorism was at the forefront of my mind while reading it. One of the main themes of the book is the oft-quoted idea that the difference between a terrorist and a freedom fighter is where you stand, and that the line between good and evil is not always clear-cut. The hijackers’ actions are not defended–everyone admits that engaging in terrorism is wrong, but they are all portrayed as sympathetic characters who are just trying to make the world better. As the novel tells it, the casualties of the hijacking were inflicted by the authorities, while the hijackers shared water with the passengers trapped aboard the aircraft. This brings into focus the harshness of life under the late-Soviet regime, and the upside-down reality that the terrorists took more care of citizens than did the officials whose duty was, theoretically, to protect them. The novel engages with the philosophical questions of violence, freedom, and the connection between the two. To me, Turashvili didn’t answer these questions; rather, he created an environment suitable for the reader to ponder them.

Though the book has a philosophical side, it remains a quick and enjoyable read. The action is fast-paced, and the prose is concise and readable. At under 200 pages, it’s also a quick read. Kiasashvili’s translation was quite good; it maintained a readable and colloquial style. The one real problem I found with this book was that the proofreading was terrible (/non-existent)! It was riddled with typos–some of them comically awkward (“shedding teats in the cemetery”) and some just bizarre (a Russian letter inserted in the middle of an English word). Note to Georgian publishing companies–I (and I’m sure plenty of other ex-pats) would be happy to check for typos in exchange for some lari. These errors prevented me from fully engaging with the book and immersing myself in it. I assume that the forthcoming US and UK editions of the book will fix these problems, making the book much more readable. I can’t speak to the quality of the Russian translation.

One last point to make is that the Georgian editions of the book (Georgian, English, and Russian) are published by Sulakauri Publishing, who have been in the news recently for an ad featuring a Hitler impersonator, which many feel is in poor taste. You may want to keep this in mind when deciding if you would like to purchase the book.