Sunday, December 20, 2009

BOOK: Once upon a time in Georgia (

Sonja Zekri talks to Aka Morchiladze, author of "Santa Esperenza," one of the zaniest books of the season

It's a deadly square. The president Zviad Gamsakhurdia has barricaded himself inside the parliament and lurking about the Intourist Hotel are the men of Tengiz Kitovani, the Bohemian turned warlord. A couple of gun-toters are squatting in the church tower and in the KGB prison opposite, Jaba Ioseliani, ex-criminal, writer and putsch instigator, waits for his hour to strike. At some point, the bullets start flying and the civil war gains new, appalling momentum.

This was fifteen years ago, but Aka Morchiladze can still point to the bullet holes in the church wall with his eyes closed. "The Rustaweli Boulevard was cordoned off, one at the top end, one at the bottom. And in the middle they shot each other dead: literati, artists, warriors," he says. "Shortly before, Sergio Leone's film had opened here: "Once Upon a Time in America." Later, a politician said to us, what a shame Leone wasn't alive to see the influence he had on our little country in the Caucasus. Crazy huh? But that's Georgia for you."

That's Georgia. For Aka Morchiladze, this sentence carries the truth and the tragedy of his country. For the majority of people outside Georgia, the name won't mean much at first. In his home country, Morchiladze is a celebrity author, TV presenter, soap writer, sports columnist and so famous that he coined himself a pseudonym. His real name is Gio Akhvlediani. Outside the Caucasus he is a person with an unpronounceable name whose works are written in a language that looks like the secret code in a children's book. He has written 25 books. They've sold in huge numbers for Georgia. Not one of them has been translated. Until now. Now Munich's Pendo Verlag has published his book "Santa Esperanza", and it is, put nicely, the zaniest and most swashbuckling work of the season.

"Santa Esperanza" is not a book, but a collection of small rainbow-coloured booklets in a caramel coloured felt slipcase. "The endless covers, the bindings, I wanted something different!" says Mordchiladze. He says it's not necessary to read the glorious saga of "The Isle of Hope" from start to finish or even right through. He nearly made the end of "Santa Esperanza" into a crossword puzzle. In this light, the little booklets seem almost conservative.

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