Thursday, February 08, 2007

Two attempts at describing Georgia

My loyal and devoted readership once again has to put up with a review of a delightful little book which many of them can neither read, nor purchase at amazon. 'Zwei Versuche, ueber Georgien zu erzaehlen' (two attempts at describing Georgia) by Adolf Enders is one of those beautifully bound slim hardback volumes which some time ago were quite popular in Germany - both Germanies, it seems, because this one was published in the GDR in 1976.

I had looked at it somewhat sceptically - some German books about Georgia can be awfully heavy, and even worse, it's an old book. But just as I finished one book, and did not want to start another long book before leaving for Africa, my eye fell on this one - and am I glad it did.

Adolf Endler and his mate Rainer K.... seem to have been sent from East Germany to translate 2000 lines of Georgian poetry into German, for an anthology, in about 6 weeks. Probably not easy work. Inevitably as soon as they have selected their lines, Georgian poets and others feel neglected, insulted, hurt that their poems have not been selected - why was this poem selected and not another and so on and so on.

In between translating poetry they also manage to travel Georgia, get involved in many feasts, climb mountains, visit markets, Rainer... seems to marry a lady from the then Soviet Union in Georgia, and they try to follow the footsteps of many earlier Germans who visited Georgia.

This book also throws some light on the other antiquarian book I have on Georgia, that published in high numbers during the Nazi era in 1942 or 1943. Endler describes how the Caucasus was intended to be part of Greater Germany - had the war taken a different turn. Just in those years the borrowing rate of books about Georgia and the Caucasus in German libraries shot up, illustrating a general interest in that area.

It seems, though, that many Germans had researched and crossed Georgia in the centuries before. Siemens had opened an office in Georgia in the 19th century; a number of maverick travellers/advisers - often the same person travelling under different names - visited Georgia and sometimes got high government posts; another traveller, Duerr or Dirr (sic), became such an expert in the many different languages spoken in the Caucasus that he stayed here and wrote school textbooks on them all.

Our author, what with translating poetry, obviously has to have a poetic streak and this makes the book very readable - the writing is beautifully crafted. For me it was not necessary to quote poetry quite so often, but it's quite interesting. He also pokes fun at some the German traits - the University of Jena (then East Germany) must have been a bit of a hotbed of research on Georgia. It seems our author asked the university for some help or information and gets the reply that 'only those people can say something serious about Georgia and her culture, or about Caucasiology, who are experts in this field'. Our author thus writes in his book 'And the expert begins, in my opinion, with the command of the Georgian language - any other approach seems inappropriate due to a necessary lack of understanding'. 1:0 to Enders, I think. And he goes on and on, mocking 'the experts'. The book has quite a number of funny moments usually directed at his own country, and the various explorers, and is really quite amusing.

The book is written in a series of vignettes, little events, little gatherings, encounters with individual named Georgians, rather impressionistically, but one gets a really good feel for the country. It would not be a travelguide if it even tried - but this way this book does not age so much, which is nice. I am not usually tempted out of Tbilisi - my weekends are quite full - but this book could lead me into the countryside sometime. It's clear that the author loves Georgia and the Georgians, and the book is the better for this. Shame it's only available on the antiquarian market.