When I was reading Eight Pieces of Empire a little while ago, the author mentioned that Georgians place a great value on their literature. He mentioned one of their favorite national authors, Konstanineh Gamsakhurdia, and I thought I would like to read one of his books. The particular book I was looking for doesn't seem to be available in English. In fact, I could only find one book that had been translated into English at all. And so I read that. I got it through InterLibrary Loan, and it came all the way from Kansas. It was kind of a cool book, since it was printed in Moscow in 1962. As far as I can tell, it's the only time Gamsakhurdia has been printed in English.
The Hand of a Great Master is historical fiction, set an 11th century Georgia. It deals with the construction of the great Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, which still exists today. Although the story seems to spend most of its time focused on the king, Georgi I, he is actually the antagonist of the novel. The hero is young Konstantineh Arsakhidse, the builder of the cathedral, who is in love with Shorena, the daughter of a rebel duke. The king wishes to marry her himself.
The names in the story are quite difficult for an English speaker, and I sometimes had a hard time telling everyone apart because of that. There is a lot of very interesting stuff about the different Georgian factions; it's a tiny country, yet it has many different groups who dress and live differently, and who are not necessarily friendly to one another. And their names are quite hard to pronounce too; one of the main groups is the Pkhovians, and if anyone can tell me how to pronounce that I would really like to know.
|Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, inside|
It was an interesting novel to read, about a time and place I know nothing about, and I wish I could get hold of more books by Gamsakhurdia, especially the one I was hoping to find in the first place, which has a title something like The Smile of Dionysus. He didn't always (or even usually) write romantic historical fiction, I don't think; usually he was criticizing the Soviets or something.