BOOK REVIEW: The Book of Tbilisi Edited by Becca Parkinson & Gvantsa Jobava

We read to experience lives entirely different from our own. If you’ve ever been curious about what it would be like to have grown up and lived in Georgia, this is the book for you. The Book of Tbilisi is an anthology of ten short stories by various authors. Each details the experience of living in Tbilisi, which is now the flourishing capital of Georgia. As you can imagine, the city has had its fair share of struggles.

The book opens with an introduction on Georgian history, which is brutal at times. It also details its language, customs, and culture. While all of these themes are explored throughout the fiction, the introduction is definitely worth reading. Before picking up this book, I barely knew anything about Georgia. I feel as if it’s rarely spoken about or given enough attention. But every single Georgian has a story to tell. Here are ten.

‘The citizens of this country are ordinary people, and some of them you’ll get to know (and perhaps even sympathise with) in the stories that follow, for they are like-minded souls, living not far from you, and who, like you, believe in miracles sometimes.’

The setting of each story is clear from the anthology’s title. What I noticed when reading, however, is that the place is not quite as important as the people who live in it. The author might introduce a setting at the start of each piece, but immediately situate a character in that setting. Each of the stories is strikingly human. The anthology presents a cast of rebellious teenagers, struggling parents, angry neighbours. People you’ll know and recognise.

‘I wanted Meda, my mum, to be taking care of my poor dad, to be the one brushing crumbs off his bed, talking to him in a soft voice, reminding him of their first date.’

As in any anthology, some stories are more gripping, while others fall through the cracks of your memory. One of my personal favourites is “On Facebook”, which is about the residents of an apartment block who use social media to find out who vandalised their building. Another is “Precision”, about the close relationship between two siblings and the struggles they face together. Another, “Flood”, is short but not exactly sweet. It’s a fast-paced and intense tale which depicts how people act when time is running out.#

‘When people die, they get buried. In Tusi’s case, it happened the other way around. First they buried her, then she died.’

Because the collection features ten stories from ten different authors, there is not one uniform writing style throughout. At times, it can be jarring to constantly switch from one voice to another. I’d recommend to take your time with this one. It’s a short book, but you don’t need to read the stories all in one go. Keep the book on your bedside table to flick through a story whenever you’re in the mood. That way, you’ll actually remember the stories you read. Because they’re worth remembering.

‘In Tbilisi, winter is about to arrive too. On the streets, by the railway station, people are walking up and down. Woman, child, student, merchant, homeless, vagabond, prostitute, drunkard, stray dog, police man, soldier… some are leaving, others are returning. Some don’t want to go anywhere in particular… others are sick of everything.’

The Book of Tbilisi deserves every piece of praise it gets. It deals with raw emotion, real struggles, and introduces characters who leap from the page and exist outside of the stories they were created for. If there’s one thing I’ll take from this book, it’s that a place is how it is because of the people who live there. My body has never been in Tbilisi, but my mind feels like it has.

The Book of Tbilisi is published by Comma Press and is available to purchase here.

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The Writers

The Book of Tbilisi features stories from Ina Archuashvili, Gela Chkvanava, Erekle Deisadze,Shota Iatashvili, Dato Kardava, Lado Kilasonia, Zviad Kvaratskhelia,Bacho Kvirtia, Iva Pezuashvili & Rusudan Rukhadze

Reviewed by Alice Kouzmenko

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