A wise, funny debut novel that finds endless entertainment in cultural differences and clashing personality types.
Part Candide, part Zorba, Slims Achmed Makashvili is a maritime lawyer in the mountainous nation of Georgia, where, as Nichol’s picaresque yarn opens, it is the last day of summer, when “everyone was trying to blacken their bodies before the weather changed.” Makashvili, though, has other things than beachgoing and the impending winter on his mind. Tired of living in a country where electrical power can’t be taken for granted, but still proud of living in a town that “looks like chipped paint,” he’s gotten wind of a U.S. State Department grant program designed to teach third-world types about the virtues of capitalism. He sends off a carefully written letter to Hillary Clinton, exulting, “As You can see, Batumi offers You and Your country great business opportunity!” In return, he wins a slot in an internship program in San Francisco, where he puts his avid mind to work concocting wild schemes to enliven his country’s livestock industry; writing to excuse himself from work one day, for instance, he avers that he’s never sick at home because “we always drink the milk of the sheep,” though, in an aside to readers, he allows that it was really the milk of the goat: “But, as I learned, it is okay to lie in a commercial.” Makashvili is well-meaning and honest, but he can’t help but get into Borat-like mischief, and his stay in the golden land of America—which, he has discerned, isn’t quite so golden after all—doesn’t end well. Nichol writes with sharp, knowing exactitude of both Georgia (where she once taught English) and her native Bay Area, and though Makashvili is a figure of jape and jest, he’s by no means a caricature.
Indeed, he’s one of the most fully realized characters in recent memory, and readers will take much pleasure in going along on his adventures—and misadventures.