Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Review: THE MOUNTAIN AND THE WALL, by Alisa Ganieva

The Mountain and The Wall, by Alisa Ganieva. Published 2015 by Deep Vellum. Literary Fiction. Translated from Russian by Carol Apollonio.

Alisa Ganieva's first book is also the first book to come to us in English from Dagestan, an ex-Soviet republic in the Caucasus Mountains with a diverse population representing many languages and ethnic groups. The reader gets a strong sense of this diversity in The Mountain and The Wall, a novel about the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the capital of Makhachkala once a rumor spreads that the Russians are building a wall to separate itself frog Dagestan.

Ganieva tells the story mostly through the eyes of Shamil, a young man with a lot of time on his hands and some personal issues to muddle through. There's the state of his love life now that his fiancee has taken up with a would-be mujaheddin, and what's going on with his friends, and more. Then there are the other misfits in town- Asya, a young woman whose family is convinced will never marry, and who may not even want to marry. And there's the writer who's finally finished his book. What's going to become of these people, and others, now that "the beards" are taking things over?

There's a lively wedding, which may be the last for a while, and more rumors flying around on all sides, and very little is known for sure. Ganieva weaves stories and more stories into her tale- Soviet propaganda, religious texts, poems, excerpts from novels, folk tales and more- which help create a sense of depth and richness, a sense of shared traditions and also of traditions that are very different from each other and struggling to coexist. Whether they'll be able to is the thing we're waiting to find out.

I hope we see more writing from the Caucasus and I liked this book but I can't say I loved it. It was kind of slow and drawn-out, a matter of taste more than judgement since I like plot-driven books and the pacing was a little jittery for me. Ganieva does a wonderful job bringing this community to life particularly at the beginning with a town meeting that is both hilarious and dark and foreboding. She eviscerates just about everyone at one time or another, except the star-crossed lovers at the center of her story, who are just trying to find their way through the chaos.


Read My Own Damn Books Challenge: 1

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive my copy for review.

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