Challenging, contemporary short stories with sharp feminist commentary, translated from Georgian.
Kordzaia possesses such dexterity with tone and structure that the book’s 22 tales feel like raunchy, visceral oral history cloaked in an array of fictional forms. The collection begins with the long, somewhat confusing title story about generations of women looking back at personal and national history, giving birth, grieving husbands who’ve disappeared during wartime, by turns angry or in awe of fate. The story’s breadth frames the range of women’s voices that follow. They live in mostly urban places, usually Tblisi, in vague yet hard circumstances, surviving bad relationships, raising children with little support, often at each other’s throats just before waxing poetic about life. In “A Foreign Man,” a painting triggers memories of past love in a series of anecdotes about bygone parties and art openings with friends drinking, flirting, sleeping on balconies—a paean to the sweet taste of regret. Many stories are monologues with fine twists, equal parts comedy and pathos. The dialogue rivals Beckett (“There, In the North”) for existential hilarity, and in cooler moments, the prose is reminiscent of Jean Rhys. In “It’s Raining,” an unnamed narrator’s experience is rendered timeless as her tales of love gone wrong lead to an act of violence and a coda from a mental hospital: “I am waiting for the time when I’ll become embittered.” Dependence on men tends to lead to despair, the violence of a passionate affair akin to war, with those who’ve survived questioning their methods and self-worths. As one supposedly happy woman is asked by a depressed friend in “An Insignificant Story of a Failed Suicide,” “If I live a long and happy life, does that mean I’ll be sent straight to heaven?”
Not all gems but essential reading in a sterling translation from a country little heard from in English-speaking countries.