cover image Kvachi


Mikheil Javakhishvili, trans. from the Georgian by Donald Rayfield. Dalkey Archive (Columbia Univ., dist.), $17.95 trade paper (512p) ISBN 978-1-56478-879-5

An epic landmark of Georgian literature, Javakhishvili's novel was published in 1925, 12 years before its author's murder in the Stalinist Purges; but given its treatment of the Russian elite, it's a grim marvel he was able to escape the authorities so long. Kvachi Kvachantiradze is a born conman, a wily and indefatigable survivor%E2%80%94as much a distillation of the Georgian character as a great anti-hero in his own right. Beginning as a charismatic youth on the outskirts of Tbilisi, Kvachi demonstrates a taste for money and a talent for obtaining it, posing as a noble after traveling to Russia to seek his fortune. There he attracts a loyal crew of fellow rogues and a rotating stable of true loves, even becoming the confidante and agent of Rasputin and a favorite of the Tsar. However, Kvachi manages to switch alliances before it's too late and escape to Paris%E2%80%94but such is only the beginning of Kvachi's adventures as, under a multitude of aliases, he will fight in the trenches of WWI, turn a movie about a bank robbery into a real one, become a Bolshevik and participate in nearly every key event to beset the Caucasus up to Georgia's Soviet incorporation. This is a classic novel that deserves to be read. (Feb.)