Saturday, August 8, 2020

The Eighth Life by Nino Haratischvilli


I first heard about The Eighth Life a few months ago, but I knew immediately that I wanted to read it. More than nine hundred pages about a family in Eastern Europe, over six generations? More than a hundred years of a family's history? A book in translation? Yes please, this is exactly the sort of book I love. But I'm not going to lie, this book, as you might expect, is A LOT. 

I should back up a bit and give as much summary as possible. The story begins with a prologue: Nizia, Stasia's great granddaughter, is living in Berlin and gets a frantic phone call from her mother. Nizia's niece Brilka, aged 12, has left her ballet group in Amsterdam and is on a train to Vienna, alone, on some kind of wild-goose chase. Nizia agrees to find her niece and bring her back to Tbilsi. The story then goes back more than a hundred years, to tell the history of six generations of the Jashi family, beginning with Stasia, a young Georgian dancer who is forced to give up her dreams of the Bolshoi Ballet and instead marries a dashing young officer in the early 20th century. Nizia narrates the story as though she's telling her family's history to Brilka. 

She remains with her family as he goes off on assignment, then they are separated by the Russian revolution. We learn about Stasia's beautiful sister Christine, who living a fabulous life in Tbilisi society until she attracts the attention of an important party leader; about Stasia's two children: Kostya, a promising Russian naval officer; and Kitty, a talented folk singer; Kostya's spoiled daughter Elene, the mother of narrator Nizia; and Nizia's sister Daria, a beautiful actress. Along the way there are world wars, revolutions, sieges, torture, heartbreak, murder, and terrible things happen to everyone along the way. There is also a magical chocolate recipe that is supposed to be some kind of curse but is really only a very minor part of the book (and I was really hoping for a recipe that never appeared.)

Haratischvilli interweaves real events and people (named and unnamed) in the book, so I learned a bit about Georgian and Russian history and geography. I do admit to skimming over some of the politics mentioned in the book. These characters experience a lot of tragedy and heartache -- honestly, I'm shocked that everyone in Georgia doesn't have PTSD or worse. I cannot even imagine living through even a fraction of what these characters have experienced. 

Great cover on this Turkish edition
Great cover on this Turkish edition

Overall, I really liked this book and being able to spend so much time with the characters. There are a lot of great strong women in this family (though they seem to have terrible taste in men). I did prefer the first half of the book to the second -- the narrator, Nizia, is actually my least favorite character in the book. She does some things that seem really unbelievable and overly convenient to the plot. However, I was so absorbed in the family's story and all the other characters that I stayed along with it until the end. I was not disappointed, though I was hoping for more chocolate. 

The Eighth Life was first published in German in 2014, and finally translated into English in 2019. I love reading books in translation -- I know so many of my books are mid-century British and classics and I really want to expand a little bit. It is Women in Translation Month so this ties in nicely. It also ties in as my Georgian selection for the European Reading Challenge, and towards my Big Book Summer Challenge.

2 comments:

  1. Wow, are you sure that Tolstoy didn't write this one? :) It does sound marvelous, and I would probably have skimmed some of the political sections as well. I was breathless just reading your synopsis.

    Also, it seems like a bit of a cheat to not get the chocolate recipe after investing so much time in reading the book.

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    1. I could not stop craving hot chocolate while I read this! I also want to learn more about Georgian cuisine. I didn't know anything about the Republic of Georgia before I read this so I did have to look up a lot of things but I did learn a lot.

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