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The Eighth Life  by Nino Haratischvili

Saturday, 4th July 2020

I have an aversion to long books (by long I mean anything from 500 to 1000 pages). It’s all right if the author is a genius - I love Dickens’s Bleak House and Trollope’s The Way We live Now. But so often when reading reviews of books on topics in which I’m interested I find the length is a real deterrent. Why do so many books today have to be so long?  I simply don’t have the time to dedicate myself to reading 800 pages or more. What has caused this trend is open to debate - perhaps an author’s fear being open to criticism because of missing some fact about the subject? Or perhaps the sheer accessibility of information today means that summarising has fallen out of fashion? Who knows? 

So you can imagine my feelings when a friend gave me a copy of The Eighth Life, a novel of 928 pages covering the decades that Georgia was under communist rule. By any test, it is a massive book. But, once begun, I found it un-put-downable. It is a very long time since I have read a contemporary novel that  gave me as much pleasure as this one.  Retold by the narrator, Niza Jashi,  to her niece, Brilka, it is the story of six generations of the Jashi family, mostly from the viewpoint of the women in the family.

This chronicle of life under communism is a timely reminder of a period that for many today is simply a matter of history. As so often, time can soften the truths of history to create an entirely new and false narrative. Communism was a delusion which led to the death and suffering of untold millions. For anyone who still believes that Marxism’s legacy inspires millions around the world to fight for peace and social justice, The Eighth Life serves as a devastating corrective.shattering any illusion that the impact of communism on ordinary life was anything but an utter disaster. This is what life was really like, Nino Haratischvili challenges the reader - could you survive in a world like this? 

What this book achieves so brilliantly is to bring home that experience in terms with which one can identify. This is not the world of high politics but of the decisions that those who lived under communism had to make in order to survive.  Nino Haratischvili brings the perils of communism into our own domestic lives. What she tells us is shocking but all too believable.

Structure and narrative drive in a multi-character novel over more than seventy years calls for an enormous range of skills from an author. Nino Haratischvili delivers brilliantly.  Her focus never wanders. Her drama hooks you into the fate of this family, some fortunate, some unfortunate, like any family anywhere. A wonderful, enthralling novel of very high quality. 

 

The Eight Life by Nino Haratischvili 

Buy it from Waterstones