The Pear Field by Nana Ekvtimishvili

The pear field by Nana Ekvtimishvili

Georgian fiction

Original title – მსხლების მინდორი

Translator – Elizabeth Heighway

Source – review copy

I had this sent earlier but had tried a couple of times to start it and just wasn’t getting into it. But as the last few weeks, I am now sitting and reading for a couple of hours solid rather than ten to fifteen mins a few times a day. I did what Peirene has always said about their books and that they are like sitting and watching a two-hour film. This is the debut novel from the Georgian writer Nana Ekvtimishvili. She studied philosophy then went to Germany to study film making it is in scriptwriter with Simon Gross she has made a number of films including the well-received In Bloom.  The book has also  been translated into German.

On the outskirts of Tbilisi, where most of the streets have no names and where whole neighbourhoods consists of nothing but soviet high rises grouped into blocks, grouped in turn into microdistricts, lies Kerch Street. There’s nothing worth seeing here, no historic buildings, o fountains, no momuments to soceity’s great accomplishments, jusy tower blocks lining both sides of the street and, now and then, anpother building tucked between them: the college of light industry, up in the plateau surrounded by spruce trees; the kindergarten; the municipal middle school; the officesof the housing managment committee; a small shopping centre; and at the very end of the street, the Residential School for the Intellectually Disabled Children or, as the locals call it, the school for Idiots

The opening lines of the book the grim reality of post soviet Georgia.

The Pear field is set on Kerch street in the capital of Georgia Tbilisi where is the residential school for disabled children or as it is locally called the school for idiots. The book opens and we meet Lela she is in her late teens and could leave the school and go beyond the pear fields but she has stayed for just two reasons which are the driving force for the book. We learn that she really wants to kill her history teacher and then alongside this is the story of Irakli a young boy that Lela has taken under her wing, every week they go to their neighbors of the school for the young boy to ring his mo0ther but over time it is clear the mother is just paying the young boy with her lip service as the story unfolds we see the school the pupils and also the dark reason behind her wanting to kill her teacher. Then there is hope for her young friend as an American couple wants to take the young man to the US to start a new life with the help of Lela and the neighbor Lena they try to help the boy get the American dream.

The school began to lose teachers as well. Only Tiniko, Dali, Vano and Gulnara are left from the old guard Nowadays new teachers come, they teach a few lessons, realize the school has nothing to offer them and go again. New children have stopped arriving too. Maybe parents todays are less willing to abandon their children or maybe there are better schools out there to abandon them in maybe idiots just aren’t being born anymore.

That is why everyone is so suprised when one day the gates open and a well-dressed young woman in her thirties walks in with a girl aged about nine The girl ;ooks smart and well cared for but aso nervous and guarded. Lela strokes the little girl’s hair, then walks them over to Tiniko’s office. Tiniko is expecting them, the woan explains that the little girl is related to her husband, Having lost her parents, she was being raised by her grandmother, Now that she has died, the child’s relative have decided to leave her with the school.

There is the hated teacher Vano for what he has done to her and other pupils over the years.

Well for those of you that don’t know my job is working with learning disabilities. I spent twenty years working in the community a few years ago taking a ward-based role on an assessment and treatment unit where we deal with people in crisis to help them get back in the community. The school setting was like the old institutions the ones I have to look after people were in before things t=change her so Lela’s story of Abuse. It is one I have heard not so much sexual but a lot of physical abuse years ago when people viewed people with learning disabilities like they still do in this book. This is the story of a mother hen to those in the school like young Irakli. But as her heart, she is a damaged young girl who has no memories outside the school and has been damaged by what her teacher had done to her.  This is an interesting finish to the closed universe series Lela world isn’t beyond the pear field just yet but their chance of breaking out is there also this is going on with the background of the break up of the soviet union had just happened and Georgia is still a new state and the school has suffered due to this. If you like post soviet books that look at the personal lives of those involved this is one for you. Have you read this book?

The Females by Wolfgang Hilbig

The Females by Wolfgang Hilbig

German fiction

Original title – Die Weiber

Translator – Isabel Fargo Cole

Source – personal copy

Wolfgang Hilbig had trained as a toolmaker and first got interested more in literature whilst he was a stoker on the ship used in 1968 by a group of east german writers protesting about the centralized censorship and control of literature in East Germany since the start of world war two. He initially worked as a poet but showed no-one, but at the 1968 event which he showed his poetry.  This lead to his poetry being published a number of years after this when he stopped before writing his debut novel Ich(I) which was autobiographical this is a later book that is thematically linked with other books he wrote including the Tiding of trees which I reviewed here. 

My losses accumulated: it seemd I’d even lost my name, yes, I no longer knew who I was, my name was tge property if a strange personage, that alone put it in the presence of females, and they suspected nothing. My name was lost, as all that flowing and rustling hair was lost to me … It was lost because I was forbidden to touch it ah, it was beyond saving

loss despair and sexual loss al her as he losses himself in the maelstrom of his life.

I struggled with the last book by Hilbig I read, in fact, the same happened this time I read this last year and read it again just this week. it is rather like wading through treacle as a reader there isn’t a lot of plot here it reminds me at times of reading Mervyn Peake in my youth there is a wonderfully descriptive nature to Hilbig world as dark and vile as this is as we see Mr c a machinist a nod to Hilbig’s own past working in a factory as he is there he watches the woman that works in the factory but not in his section so he only gets glimpses of them which he describes in a very sexual nature he then says he lost his job at the factory but it doesn’t need to know fully why and why have the woman gone this is where the reader struggles as there is no linear nature to the events that follow they seem to drift back to a dream about getting tortured in a sexual fantasy by the witch of Buchenwald the notorious wife of the commandant of the concentration camp. Then we have a sort twisted masturbation scenes to rubbish and here I was reminded of the similar sexual imagery Ballard used in his book The crash which dealt with the fetish of sex and cars well here it is a similar fetish around rubbish and sex. Mother fixation and a strange dream about stroking a young woman hair and then an attempt to kill himself in an act similar to that of Oskar Brusewitz who killed himself as a political act in 1976 in front police after placing posters about religious freedoms in East Germany. All this is the background to him trying to find where the woman of the town seemed to have disappeared too. This is all a poke at the control of sexual images and natures under the east german regime he grew up in a backlash.

I had gradually begun to transform into a sickness, Like all things I produced, this transformation was utterly excessive, an agony not quite hiuman , it was no longer that of an animal, either. It led to my dismissal from the factory, though the details aren’t worth mentioning, I lived in circumstances in which symptons, I hid in my apartment by day and went out only at night, in the dark, roaming the  town’s deserted streets solilopuizing, holding rousing speeches to myself, sweating, covered woth milky greem pusticles, A terrible thing had happenedsince I’d learned to use life to manufacture descriptions which made an inner life possible for me.

I was remind of Peakes description of , Abiatha Swelter. the chef in gormenghast.

This is a complex work that probably to fully get needs a more careful reader than me and maybe some with more knowledge of former east Germany. But as a work of literature, it is rich with the darker side of the life of what it is like when sexual feelings are repressed then just let out of a dark past echoed in the remains of the concentration camp on the edge of town and our narrator’s sexual dream of an S and M act with Ilse Kock. Hilbig blows open the sexual repression of the East German regime where everyone watched each other so real sexual freedom was deeply repressed.It is a book that reminds me of the rich descriptive style of Mervyn Peake, in fact, the world he describes is similar at times to Peakes Gormenghast. I also remembered the sexual nature of J G  Ballards crash in the description of sex here. Two lines have done a great job bringing him to English.

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