Zaza Burchuladze: რომანი (Adibas)
Reading the first chapter of this book you would have little idea that you were in Georgia (with a couple of exceptions). The narrator’s girlfriend, Bobo, watches Lost and likes Johnny Depp and Star Wars. He takes some Centrum pills and eats a croissant for breakfast. He refers to the film Amélie and the Goldberg Variations, as played by Glenn Gould. His dog is named Aphex, presumably after Aphex Twin. Bobo drinks Red Bull. They had previously exchanged music on their mobiles, using Bluetooth. He watches a film on YouTube. Nothing Georgian. Yes, he does make a couple of small mentions of places in Georgia. Oh, and on TV, we get film of Georgia being invaded by Russia.
The narrator, who is variously called Shako and Gio, seems to be an actor, though, during the course of the book, the only acting assignment he is even being considered for, is a part in a Pepsi commercial. (Georgian Pepsi, as he quickly points out, in one of the many deprecating comments about his own country). His time seems to be spent with friends, with girlfriends, sometimes at bars, sometimes in bed (he seems to be very partial to oral sex) and doing drugs (vint and cocaine seem to to be the favourites). He, his friends and the other apparently fairly prosperous Georgians of his acquaintance seem to spend all of their time in these leisure pursuits, mildly mocking the lower orders but more concerned with their own immediate sexual, drug and technological gratification. What makes this book so fascinating, however, is all the while that they are worrying about where their next hit is coming from, their country is under invasion. They watch it on TV and see Tbilisi being, apparently, bombed, Russian troops marching into their country and their government making patriotic statements. But for Shako and his friends, it is something like partially watching a second-rate soap opera. They glance at it now and then. They even talk it about now and then. But it is not something that they are going to be bothered too much about.
Shako seems to change girlfriends with monotonous regularity. At the beginning of the book he has been with Bobo two days but by the end of the books she is last year’s history and he has had several since. He has even filmed a recently ex-girlfriend having sex with her new boyfriend and is only very mildly jealous. He tries different drugs, meets various friends. We are even given a parody of Waiting for Godot (called Waiting for Vint), where two men are waiting for their drug dealer, who never arrives. The war, if it is an issue, is just a mild inconvenience. A Russian drone approaches him and seems to stare at him in the face. He is not too bothered, though the street cleaner is furious and endeavours (unsuccessfully) to hit it with his broom. His meeting with the man offering him the part in the Pepsi commercial is rescheduled because their meeting place is closed because of the war, but this is just an annoyance, like a hold-up because of road works. A friend sends him a text saying Abkhazia is our main trouble. He neither knows nor cares what that means. For him, the main purpose of texting seems to be sexting as, more than once, he sexts a girlfriend a photo of his erect penis.
His cultural activities, as I have said, are mainly Western. However, he does mention Sergei Parajanov, the great Georgian film director, though pointing out that Parajanov was really Armenian (his parents were Armenian, though he was born in Georgia). He reads a book, the entirely fictitious Mythogenic Love of Castes by Pepperstein. He is proud of Vladimir Arutyunian, who attempted to assassinate George Bush, though most of his information, by his own admission, comes from the Wikipedia article I have linked to. Meanwhile, the war goes on. There is a TV shot of a blood-stained woman, lying on the ground, pleading for help, with a house and vehicles burning nearby. Meanwhile, underneath the picture, there is a streaming ad for a bank, which will enter you in a competition for a new Mercedes if you open a deposit account with them. There is a rumour that Tbilisi may be under chemical attack, but he does not really care.
This is a supremely cynical book but also very amusing. War doesn’t matter? Well, maybe a minor war like the Russia-Georgia does not. Of course, we can all be guilty of focussing on the minutiae of our own lives and ignoring tragedy elsewhere but Burchuladze takes this to extremes, which is what a writer should be doing. Civilian casualties in this war were, depending on whose view you take, around 500 killed and many more wounded, with some three hundred military personnel killed and many more wounded, so the war was not a minor conflict. However, for Shako and his friends, it remained merely a minor annoyance.
First published in 2009 by Sulakauri
First English translation by Dalkey Archive Press in 2013
Translated by Guram Sanikidze