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Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Ekaterina Togonidze - Women (Not) In Translation

Google “Georgian literature”’ll get references to books written by people from the American state of Georgia, you will also get references to English Literature written in the early 1700’s (the “Georgian” era), you need to dig a little to find the references to literature written by people from the Eastern European Country of Georgia.  The Georgian National Book Centre have a decent amount of information about the history of Georgian literature and rightfully celebrate the fact that the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2018 has confirmed Georgia as the Guest of Honour Country.

What is disappointing in their materials is (yet again) the lack of female representation, with Ana Kordzaia-Samadashvili and Tamta Melashvili the only female representatives from sixteen writers in their projects to have works translated into another language in 2014.

If you are interested in exploring Georgian Literature in more detail, the Georgian National Book Centre has a wealth of information here including links to databases of translated works here

Today I look at Ekaterina Togonidze, (try Googling her!!!), winner of the Best Story of the Year in 2012 for her novella “The other w-a-y” (which has been translated into German but not English), a work which became the basis for her script for a full-length feature film. Her short-story collection “Anestezia” won the Best Debut Award at the 2012 Saba Annual Literary Competition. This is an annual literary prize founded in 2003 “aiming to reveal the best book of the year. The jury considers every literary work of the previous year published in Georgia, including original writings, translations of foreign literature into Georgian and foreign translations of Georgian works.” (‘Georgia Today’) A graduate in Journalism from the Tbilisi State University she became a news programme anchor and then a morning programme presenter in Georgian Public Broadcating. Her most recent novel “Asynchrony” was nominated for the Best Novel of the Year in the Saba Literary Award. A story about Siamese twins Lina and Daina who die in mysterious circumstances. Their absent father Rostom learns of their existence first through the fact of their death, then, page by page, from their poignant diary entries. More on this book here

Nice resume, pity you can find only one (yes one) of her works in English. The short story “It’s Me” (translated by Natalia Bukia-Peters & Victoria Field), which appears in the Dalkey Archive Press anthology “Best European Fiction 2015”.

A decent length short story, it is a first person narration about image and identity. Opening with a description of a recurring dream with a small child knocking on a door, with her head bowed and not answering the question “Who’s there?” we then switch to a television studio where our protagonist is being interviewed. The interview itself takes little (if any) of the story, and it is more a case of our writer explaining how she got there, her growth until this moment:

When I was a child, it made me unhappy when people told my mother I didn’t look anything like her. I thought she was beautiful. As I grew up, it made me unhappy when they said that I did look like her. As I reached puberty, my nose grew longer and my eyebrows became thicker.
When I went to university, I moved to the capital. Here, nobody knew my mom and no one could compare our features. I liked it, but I found it difficult to live alone and even harder to be among people. In the evenings I gazed at the fireplace, thinking I would drown in sadness. I waited impatiently for parcels from the village and scoffed down my mom’s plum sauce, chicken, and fresh cheese.
During my first vacation, I happily scurried home to Mandaeti, where the fruit had its own special flavor and the air smelled totally different.

Our story then leads to the reason our narrator is on television, she is the model example of the benefits of cosmetic surgery. Over the years she has completely changed her physical appearance, to the extent that she now lives with the cosmetic surgeon (who she calls “Daddy”). He moulds her to his desires.

During the television program there is also a wine tasting segment where the audience taste five wines in five different receptacles, as it turns out the wine is the same in each container but the flavour is different depending upon which container it has been drunk from.  “The type of vessel changes the constituents”.

A parallel story of our narrator who has had her own vessel (her body) changed to suit her lover’s desires.

A young girl awkward and alone, who struggled to maintain relationships becomes a celebrity at the hands of a surgeon.

As per all of my reviews I will not reveal the ending, you will need to read it yourself to understand where our protagonist ends up. A compact characterisation, a tale of forging an identity, of insecurities, and individuality. Another writer whose work I would like to explore further, pity there’s nothing else of hers available in English!!! Let’s hope “Asynchrony” will be picked up by a publisher and translated!!! We can hope....

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