“If you have never spent a night at Beglar’s Mill, chatting with him till dawn, discussing all the village news, if you have never tasted his undersalted bread and have not dozed off in the wee hours, tired from all the talk, and then coming awake with a start, dying of thirst, have not dashed out to the mill pond, to drink the cold water of the Supsa like a horse, do not say you know our village.”
This is a story of Sosoya, a boy growing up in a village in Guria in the West of Georgia during the Second World War. Soso hangs out with his friends Khatia, a blind girl, Bezhan, who fell on his head falling from a pear tree as a youngster, and Auntie who took Soso in when his parents disappeared in the purge of ’37. Life is difficult in the war years, there is not a lot to eat, the staple being mchadi, a bread made from maize flour. Most of the men have gone to war, leaving the women and children to work in the fields.
The title relates to Khatia, the blind girl who can’t see but can see the sun, there is hope in the future that an operation in Batumi may allow her to see. Khatia follows Soso about everywhere and they have a strong friendship which develops into romantic love.
A bittersweet tale mixing the sadness of war with the joys of life in a small village. Sosoya and Khatia travel by donkey to a neighbouring village to trade Soso’s father’s coat and boots for corn. They are taken in by a couple bereft by the loss of their twin sons at the front. Khatia spins a tale that the brothers are okay and will soon be home, the couple give them the corn and won’t take the clothes in exchange, Soso feels ashamed, but Babilo assures him the corn is a gift and he would be no beggar in accepting it. Other characters in the story include an injured Russian, Anatoly, who is nursed back to health by Soso and his Auntie, using goat milk stolen from the collective farm’s goats. There is also Datiko, a deserter, hiding in the woods and causing trouble for the villagers.
The book offers an interesting insight into village life in a difficult period and looks at young love and true friendship with humour and a certain melancholy.
My rating 4 out of 5
English translation by Fainna Glagoleva