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Mikhail Shevelev, Moscow

The last bit of advice

Fazil Iskander – an outstanding writer and an exemplary humanist – died on Sunday at the age of 87.

I might be mistaken but the last thing that he wrote was a short review of the novel “Where Gods Spend the Night by Dmitry Ivanov, in which he gives us, readers, a recommendation to read it. It is advice worth listening to, both because of who it comes from and due to the importance of the subject matter.

The Caucasus isn’t a topic of interest in Russia these days. One can see this from the main headlines, media publications and Facebook posts. The Northern Caucasus may get onto the news when Ramzan Kadyrov does or says something really outrageous, or there is a massive explosion in Dagestan, or Boris Nemtsov gets killed in Moscow. As for what happens in Baku, Tbilisi or Yerevan – this is something that is of no interest to Russia. Brexit is news worth discussing, though an exchange of gunfire in Nagorny Karabakh is not.

And the Caucasus strikes back. News from Russia attracts fewer and fewer readers in Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan. For people living in these countries Russia is a faraway realm, alien and often menacing. It is true that even in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Why should I care? This is the common outlook.

There’s no surprise or mystery in that. Twenty five years have passed since the Soviet Transcaucasia ceased to exist and turned into modern South Caucasus. One can endlessly boast claiming the empire is back with its “zone of special interests – but it is impossible to hide the obvious: the way Russia behaves in the Caucasus painfully resembles an aging womanizer trying to cover up his impotence.

This mutual loss of interest manifests itself vividly in a field where deception never works. Just how many novels have been written recently in Russian about the Caucasus? To say nothing of masterpieces. The correct answer will be – close to zero. There’s no demand on part of the audience and no proposals on part of the authors.


Then came 2015 which brought the novel “Where Gods Spend the Night by Dmitry Ivanov.

It is well-written and a page-turner. Both funny and moving. That is how it was accessed not by me but by Fazil Iskander, Lyudmila Ulitskaya, Yuri Arabov, Andrei Makarevich.

I would only add that the subject of the novel seems no less important than its literary achievements. This is the story of how the people living in the Caucasus meet the Russian bureaucracy face to face. There’s no war or massive deportation this time around or the usual bloodshed, but instead the peaceful Olympics in Sochi – but in the novel there are still tragedies.

But suddenly it turns out that it may have a happy ending. The hero of the novel – a well-to-do Muscovite without even the slightest knowledge about the Caucasus – who is assigned to Sochi to help promote the Olympics, finds out that he is a part of the propaganda effort for the event that ruins local communities. His insights make him think. Then feel. Then act.

Obviously “Where the Gods Spend the Night is meant primarily for readers living in Moscow, Perm, Chelyabinsk or Orenburg. This is simply because this novel is about them. But it could possibly be of interest for people in Baku, Tbilisi, Yerevan and elsewhere. This book is the right choice for those who have been searching (with very little success in recent years) for proof that there is a gap between Russian people and the Russian bureaucracy.   

I believe Fazil Iskander would be glad if we follow his suggestion and read the novel.

Sukhum, opening of the “Nika” monument based on Fazil Iskander works

The opinions expressed in the article convey the author’s terminology and views and do not necessarily reflect the position of the editorial staff.

Published: 02.08.2016 

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