Wednesday, May 14, 2014

(RNL #30) "Data Tutashkhia" - Chabua Amiredzhebi (Georgia)

Rating: 3 out of 3

This book is available in English!

Consciously or unconsciously, I tend to place higher expectations on novels over 500 pages in length. After all, reading a 'monster-sized' novel is a significant time commitment; one to two weeks of your life spent in 'conversation' with one author. I'd like to come out of the experience feeling as if I hadn't wasted my time...

I certainly had my expectations and trepidation when I first began Amiredzhebi's magnum opus, "Data Tutashkia". But I must say, almost from the very beginning, I sensed that I was immersing myself in something special...

Before, however, we get to the novel, I'd like to spend a few moments speaking about Amiredzhebi himself. Chabua Amiredzhebi (1921-2013) was born in Tblisi, Georgia. He was a descendant of the ancient Amiredzhebi line of Georgian aristocracy. In 1938, his Father was repressed and sentenced to 10 years in prison camps. Amiredzhebi had, understandably, a negative view of bolshevism from youth. He said that:

"the 'changeover from one social system to another is, for the most part, unjustified. This is of course well known to the individuals or groups of people who take upon themselves the mission of prophets or organizers of the new way of life. Their objectives stipulate self-interest.'."

In 1944, Amiredzhebi was himself sentenced to 25 years imprisonment for anti-state political activity. Remarkably enough, Amiredzhebi escaped from prison not one, not twice, but three times! After the third escape, he obtained some fake documents, moved to Belorussia and became a director of a factory. Later on, Amiredzhebi was to be given an award by the state; while his documents were being reviewed during the award allocation process, Amiredzhebi's past was uncovered and he was sent back to prison with an additional sentence for his jailbreak. Amiredzhebi then participated in a prison revolt..eventually, however, he was released in 1959. From 1960 onwards, Amiredzhebi started writing. "Data Tutashkia" is the author's magnum opus. It was originally written in Georgian, but then, self-translated by the author himself in 1976. A movie was later made based by on the book (guess who wrote the screenplay?) Interestingly enough, towards the end of his life, Amiredzhebi received permission to become a monk from the Georgian Orthodox Church. One of Georgia's greatest modern writers died in December, 2013.

Now back to the story at hand...
Glancing at the cover, one might think that "Data Tutashkina" (DT) a rather simplistic novel about a Georgian outlaw (Data Tutashkina) and his remarkable ability to escape capture from the Russian Imperalist gendarmes. But no, DT is a big, huge novel with big ideas. And what's more, it is a tale of two cousins, both almost identically blessed with the same physical and intellectual traits, but travelling two morally different paths. 

The novel is divided into 4 parts chronicling its hero's, DT's, moral evolution, interestingly enough, always narrated from the perspective of a multitude of characters from DT's past. DT is a man who from birth, can not stand injustice and wrongdoing. At the very beginning of the novel, we learn that he was convicted of an accidental killing that even the victim absolved him of! This then began his life as a fugitive, constantly running from police desperate to catch him. Throughout the novel, DT goes from place to place, sees evil and struggles with how to overcome it. In the first part of the novel, DT attempts to help those wronged with little result, as either the individual wronged (strangely enough) continues to allow him/herself to be wronged (as in the case of the loser at cards continuing to allow himself to be cheated by card sharks); or the injured and insulted, once rescued by DT, start, themselves, to injure and insult (as was the case with the married pair whom DT assisted to purchase a cow). An excellent, memorable tale in this section of the novel was that of the hospital patients, whom DT likened to the cannibal rats bred by one of the residents. 

In the second part of the novel DT, saddened by his previous experiences, decides not to intervene at all in societal issues unless absolutely certain that his actions would bring good. His new stance had the result of people forgetting all of his past good deeds, and turning on him for his 'indifference'. 

In the third (and my favourite) part of the novel, DT, who has by this point lost his way, attempts to mingle in society in order to determine for himself a meaning and way forward in life. He joins the company of a lawyer and a mysterious woman and their little group engages in various philosophical debates over drinks (which it seems was/is a national pastime in Georgia!). This portion of the story was both interesting, in terms of the philosophical debates, and suspenseful (i.e. what are the relationships between each party? How do they truly regard each other?) The segment's climax, the dinner at the lawyer's home (with its 'mystery' guest), was particularly suspenseful and well-written.

In the next section of the novel, DT decides that evil can only be overcome by force. Here, we learn more about DT's cousin, who by this time, is one of the Russian imperial gendarme's 'best and brightest'. Completely -ahem- 'devoted' to his job and - ahem- ahem- 'unbiased', he zealously oversees a program to rid the region of 'dangerous' outlaws such as his cousin. It is in this section that we truly gain an understanding of which of the brothers really is the danger to society and the regime.

In the final part of the book, DT finally decides for himself, based on all of his past experiences, that the best way to rid the world of evil is to do good. This section of the novel features a gripping ending, as well as the final confrontation between Data and his family. 

The character of DT was wonderfully written by Amiredzhebi, and I fell in love with his innate goodness and humanity. The other main characters, the Russian Count and Data's Cousin, were also well-fleshed out. I despised DT's cousin just about as much as I loved DT!

As mentioned previously, there were some very thought-provoking philosophical discussions in the novel, as well as some interesting background on prison conditions, secret police operations and daily life in pre-revolutionary Georgia. 

DT is not a novel that will leave you feeling indifferent towards any of the main characters. I loved some and thoroughly despised others. The novel's ending left me in tears and well- I'm still thinking about all the philosophical ideas raised in the novel! Its not light reading, but its excellent reading that will keep you thinking and thinking. 

I thoroughly recommend this wonderful novel, which definitely deserves its place among the world's 'big' books. 3 out of 3.

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