In Drybridge Market, I found a copy of “Granny, Iliko, Ilarion and I” (მე, ბებია, ილიკო და ილარიონი) by Nodar Dumbadze. This is a tale by turns humorous and melancholic of a village boy Zuriko, a feckless student, whose best friends are two neighbours, Iliko and Ilarion and his granny. The book is set in the shadow of wartime Georgia.
I read the English translation by Raissa Bobrova (published by Raduga in the USSR, 1985). My Georgian is not yet up to reading the original version.
The characters are all partial to cha-cha , a kind of Georgian moonshine they distill themselves. Early on, an ill fated hunting trip sees Illarion drunk on cha cha shoot the poor dog Murada, whom he mistakes for a hare.
Iliko has his own troubles with animals, his prize sow, Seraponia, who he was counting on to give him 12 piglets, which he could trade with his neighbours for corn, pushed her way through a fence forcing her to miscarry.
The novel has many humorous interludes, when Ilarion checks Zuriko’s school leaving certificate for his suspicious Granny, he concludes it must be Zuriko’s and not a forgery because “there is not a single good mark to be found in it“.
Still the certificate is enough for Zuriko to leave his village in Guria and travel to Tbilisi to be a student.
Zuriko is far from a model student and can’t make head or tail of Political Economy, he flunked the first year. He lodges with a landlady he calls Aunt Martha, who pesters him to study so he can get a grant and pay her rent. But her pestering is to no avail. Zuriko’s university years are interspersed with Summers in the village. Iliko and Ilarion are often pranking the other. Ilarion and Zuriko put a message in a claypot in Iliko’s vineyard saying his father had buried treasure under the apple tree. when Iliko reads the message Zuriko has to leave “To keep myself from laughing and so spoiling the entire hoax. I said I was terribly thirsty and ran down to the spring.” Iliko spends the night digging a large hole to no avail. On another occasion Ilarion steals Iliko’s wood, Iliko thought this might happen and with Zuriko had put primed dynamite in the logs. Later around a fire, Zuriko realises it is Ilarion who had stolen the wood and tells him to get down just in time as the dynamite explodes knocking the cauldron distilling cha-cha over.
The story is a wonderful evocation of village life in forties Georgia, the characters aren’t too bright but they have a loving bond for each other. There is plenty of time for eating, drinking cha-cha and dreaming up crazy ideas. There is also a couple of love interests to tug at Zuriko’s heart strings: Mari in the village and Zira in the city.
My rating : 4 out of 5