A sprawling picaresque novel from the Russian periphery.
Such a venue is just the right place for a con man to flourish, and Kvachi Kvachantiradze is just the right person for the job, as if born to it. Indeed, when Kvachi came into the world, writes Georgian novelist Javakhishvili (1880-1937), he did so yelling “nothing but ‘Me–me.’ It sounds as if he’s not going to let anyone else have anything and is going to lay claim to the whole world.” In order to stake his claim on that vast target, Kvachi wheedles, cajoles, promises, lies and betrays, and somehow, as with the best con men, manages to remain more or less beloved. Moreover, he has a knack for recruiting people to take part in his ever more elaborate schemes, even if they might occasionally protest, as does this ravishing beauty: “Ah, I understand: I’ve got to pretend I’m a relative of yours? And then? What, what did you say? God, anything but that! How could I sink so low? Have I got to throw myself at that beast, at that dirty peasant?!” If the writing seems a touch fusty, that’s a product of the time and not of the translation, and underneath it all, Javakhishvili is playing a dangerous game of political criticism that comes out into the open late in the tale, when Kvachi worms his way into the confidences of the newly installed Soviet apparatus, only to take it on the lam for Turkey a step ahead of the Cheka. Javakhishvili himself was not so lucky; he disappeared into the Gulag, having written baldly of a time when “everyone was fighting everyone: Hetman Skoropadsky, Petliura, Makhno, Antonov, the Germans, the Muscovites, the French, the Poles, the White Volunteers, robbers, deserters, bandits, and marauders.” Readers without a command of those references will need to do some searching on their own, since the book is largely without footnotes, the translator rather unhelpfully pointing to Google instead.
A lost classic of Georgian writing, of considerable interest to students of the early Soviet era and Russian Civil War.