Alisa Ganieva: Праздничная гора (The Mountain and the Wall)


The latest addition to my website is Alisa Ganieva‘s Праздничная гора (The Mountain and the Wall), a novel from Dagestan. Dagestan is a republic which is still part of Russia and next door to Chechnya. The Chechen war has spilled over into Dagestan. As an Islamic republic, like Chechnya, there is a rise in Islamisation, since the breakup of the Soviet Union. This is the basis of Ganieva’s novel. The story follows a few characters in contemporary Dagestan but, in particular, Shamil, a young journalist. We first meet him, interviewing some goldsmiths in an ancient village where the craft tradition goes back many hundreds of years, though where the craftsmen seem now more intent on making money from the tourist trade than their craft. The idea of the ancient traditions of Dagestan will remain in the background of this novel. However, on return to the city, Shamil learns of a rumour that the Russians have built or are building a wall between Russia and the Caucasian republics. The rest of the novel follows both a few key characters, in particular but not only Shamil, as well as the effect of the Wall on the country. We have already learned that Islamisation is very much on the rise, with previously fairly liberal people becoming strict Muslims, women taking the veil and men having multiple wives. Now this increases. The beards, as the strict Muslims are called, are taking over with all that that implies. Meanwhile, the Internet seems not to work, TV is intermittent, the airports are closed and the bosses and police have fled or are in hiding. Ganieva tells a first-class story, giving us something of an impressionistic view of the various people we meet, the increasing chaos in the country and the diverging opinions on the Islamisation. The English translation, which will be out at the end of June, comes from Deep Vellum, which is rapidly becoming a most interesting publisher and I look forward to more from them.

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