Nino Haratischvili: The Eighth Life

The first few things you will ask yourself after reading this are questions in the vicinity of, “Was that really 934 pages long? How was I able to read that so quickly?”

Tougher questions will follow: The question of identity, the question of who you are and what shaped you. The question of history and how you cannot ever separate your personal history from history in general.

What do you really know about history? What do you really know about yourself?

“For me, the greatest reward was her stories.”  Nino Haratischvili, The Eighth Life

At the beginning of the century that would suffer two World Wars, and many other wars, a chocolatier prospers in Georgia under the Russian Empire. His chocolaterie thrives and caters to townsmen and Russian nobility, but after a tragedy following the devouring of the the secret recipe in its purest form, he soon suspects that it holds a curse. The recipe would, however, always manage to find its way to the next generation and throughout the entire century. 

The accursed hot chocolate recipe was something I would normally expect to savor from Latin American magic realists and I was initially unsure of how I felt about coming across this flavor in The Eighth Life. I thought it could easily be dispensable in the grand, cinematic scope of the story.

But wasn’t this family saga set in junctions of the immeasurable Silk Route where anything could happen, and where the influence of Scheherazade’s fantasies still linger at every bend?

I eventually gave in to this literary ingredient and pondered if it was meant to symbolize the intergenerational curses — inherited pain, memory, and trauma — to which we become heirs and which we unknowingly impart.

_ _ _

The casual tone of the narrative deceived me at the onset. You could tell you were not reading Vasily Grossman or Olga Tokarczuk. (The comparison is unavoidable as theirs were the novels I read this year that are similar in length and with similar intersecting eras and geographies.)

It is, after all, addressed to Brilka, an adolescent; and so the narrator spells things out. We know that this is something masters of literature usually avoid, but it was this casual and explanatory tone that made me so unsuspecting of how it would sweep me up in its emotional and historical hurricane. I found myself wiping away tears a number of times, grieving for the characters with their extinguished hopes and dreams, and for the entire broken century that was also partly my own.

It is remarkable how the novel captured the spirit of each era it depicted, even the confusions and the troubles of each age reflected in the characters. To present these — along with the complex convergence of Russian and Georgian histories and politics, and how Soviet tyranny affected so many lives across borders — in such a readable manner only made me recognize Nino Haratischvili’s command of such topics.

This novel is a strange oxymoron to me: For being simultaneously accessible and wise, for being both painful and satisfying, and for lending answers as it asks questions.

_ _ _

What do you really know about history? What do you really know about yourself?

Could it be true, that chilling thing Kostya said about everything waiting to come back?

‘What statues and pictures?’ I asked.

‘You know, of Lenin, Marx, and Engels, the Generalissimus — all those men!’ He seemed to be giving it serious thought.

‘They’ve gone.’

‘But they can’t all just disappear, just like that!’

‘Apparently they can. Everything disappears sooner or later.’

‘Nothing disappears. Nothing, Niza!’ He laid is hand on mine.

‘You mean, everything is hidden somewhere, waiting to be found again?’ I tried to bring myself to smile. 

‘Everything is waiting to come back.’

_ _ _

Thank you, Anna, for recommending this book!

9 thoughts on “Nino Haratischvili: The Eighth Life”

  1. You read it! So fast! Lol. I agree, those 900+ pages flew by. I remember reading it every spare moment I had. Your write up perfectly sums up my thoughts as well, you are so eloquent with your words! I can remember throughout most of the book just feeling so depressed…. Like so down for the women of this world. To be a woman in Soviet times was pretty horrid. It seems like I passed your test – you liked the book! I had a feeling you would. Its a story that has really stuck with me. Thanks for the shoutout at the end too! 😍😍😍

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Girl, I did not sleep, and went to work with puffy eyes! 🤣 There was no test, by the way! Hahaha! Thank you, once again. This book led me to sketch a Georgia travel itinerary! Looking forward to reading more from my “Anna list”. ❤

      Yes, it felt so frustrating reading some passages about how the women had to suffer — and silently! Hoping for the day when all women in the world can only read about such things as stories of the past, and never have to live in such conditions and with such trauma!

      Like

      1. Ahhh yes I have been wanting to go to Georgia (and the Caucasus) for years. Reading this book made me want to go even more. My friend and I were actually keen for Georgia for our trio next month but a bit too far/pricey for the short amount of time we had. So Cambodia it is! When I do get to Georgia I want time, to not be rushed, and to savour.

        Btw hope you finally got some sleep last night! 🤣🤣🤣

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Wonderful review, Miracle! Loved what you said about how the novel is a strange oxymoron – “for lending answers as it asks questions.” So beautifully put! I’ve been avoiding this book because if its size, which is very intimidating. But after reading your review, I feel that I should pick it up one of these days. Thanks for sharing your thoughts 😊

    Liked by 1 person

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