I bought this novel because it was an English translation of a contemporary Georgian writer. The story is about a group of 100 writers from different European countries, who embark on a train journey across Europe fro Lisbon to Warsaw. The protagonist and narrator, Zaza is a Georgian writer, a reluctant writer, who has only published one volume of short stories, “fifteen literary tiddlers“. There are two other Georgians, Zviad, a poet and Iliko, who acts like a guide and translator. Iliko and Zviad “instantly disliked each other“. Georgians are not the best travellers, they feel awkward in foreign countries, they fear novelty, Zviad is afraid of flying and needs to be drunk before the plane takes off. The novel is illuminating in illustrating various traits of the Georgian character. Zaza is not a typical Georgian male, he is aware of his failings.
Zaza has been shaken up by the recent Russian invasion of Georgia (the novel is set in October 2008, two months after the Russo-Georgian war) and splitting up with his girlfriend Elene. On the train he finds a new Elene in the shape of Greek Helena, married to a Polish translator, Macek, several years her senior. Zaza is scared of beautiful foreign women and is uncomfortable in Madrid where he sees so many couples kissing in public. We are wondering throughout the book if he will get further than first base with Helena, who he is clearly smitten by.
I don’t usually like a novel written by a writer about a writer, or in this case several writers, it seems somewhat lacking in imagination, but I did find this one quite engaging. I wonder how much of Lasha Bugadze is reflected in Zaza and his fellow writers, full of insecurities. Zaza has difficulty writing in the presence of others and wonders whether it was counterproductive having a lot of writers travelling together.
I couldn’t write though. I can recall it quite clearly. I hate writing as it is and, from my observation, I find it practically impossible to even sit down to it when abroad.
The writers are not really interested in what the others are writing being rather egocentric.
What can one expect from doctors, engineers, artists or physicists if “writers” themselves don’t read their colleagues work?
It seems the good writers stayed at home and the gathering on the train are rather mediocre.
Zaza’s narration is interspersed with excerpts from the other writers, for authenticity, I imagine, these are in different languages (Greek, French, Russian, Armenian etc..) with an English translation.
My copy had some typos, ones not picked up by a spellchecker like “it was Zviad’s turn to road with laughter.” Despite its faults, I enjoyed it overall.
My rating 4 out of 5