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The Mountain and the Wall Paperback – June 30, 2015
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"It's a really astonishing novel, a knowing and satirical account of the current situation in the North Caucasus, which is, in Alisa's hands, a mix of medieval custom, superstition, radicalism, capitalism, bling, Sovietica and 21st-century technology: gold-hilted daggers, Lenin statues, mujahideen and leopard-skin miniskirts. My main pleasure in the book was derived from the overlapping narratives, the playfully unreliable narrator and a sense of writerly joy in style and device. Ganieva parodies epic verse, Soviet textbook, modern novel, street signage, she has long and fertile dream sequences and parallel realities, she skips back and forth in time...It's a liberating joyful read, despite the grim subject matter. Alisa is a clever and clear-eyed writer with a strong sense of literary purpose and I can't wait to read her next book." Sasha Dugdale
"Religious extremism and the ever shifting politics of the former Soviet Union form the pulsing backdrop of this smart and daring debut novel. Though it is the first book set in the region of Dagestan to published in English and the events depicted are foreign to the American experience, at its heart, Ganieva’s compelling story is a universal one of a young man trying to make sense of this crazy world, while making money, sustaining friendships, protecting his family, and falling in love." Josh Cook, Porter Square Books
"One of those novels that reminds us why reading world literature can be so compelling. . . . masterfully blends the ingredients of a society being torn apart by ideologies with all the little details that make the nonnative reader feel as if he or she has tasted the local cuisine from a family kitchen rather than a concept gastropub. It is a mass disaster novel as viewed through the eyes of young adults who mostly just want the freedom to dance, listen to music, and engage in courtship behavior, however clumsy." Rob Vollmar, World Literature Today (Editor's Pick)
"The arrival into English of a Dagestani novel is an event with little precedent and as such should be welcomed. . . . An ambitious and informative book." Natasha Randall, The Times Literary Supplement (TLS)
"Passionate and stylistically accomplished . . . Ganieva vividly portrays the disrupted patterns of contemporary life, the disjuncture between the rational, modern world and the primitive extremism that threatens it. She harnesses the tropes of apocalyptic fiction: mobile phone blackouts, boarded-up airports, anarchy, the rise of cults, just as Emily St. John Mandel does in the recent bestseller Station Eleven. Like Mandel, Ganieva is less interested in the mechanics of the doomsday scenario than its social and psychological repercussions." Phoebe Taplin, Russia Beyond the Headlines
"The land, seen in its beauty and the depths of the past, is the beating heart of Ganieva’s novel. Troubles may not be overcome, but they might be survived, and that love and the resiliency of a community ever malleable is the path to it. The Mountain and the Wall asks us to love and understand Dagestan, and the ask is compelling." P.T. Smith, Full-Stop
"Ganieva's writing has a kind of magic. . . . The way that the story is told is sort of stream of consciousness, which inserts the reader into the pulse of the action, confronting the fears and frustrations of the people in Dagestan." Lauren Smart, Dallas Observer ("10 Books To Read this Fall")
"Complex in a nineteenth-century, great-multi-plot-Russian-novel way, especially in the religious and political fervor of the distinctly Dostoevskian crowd scenes that fuel the action; it’s compelling in its topical exploration of Islamic fundamentalism and annexation by or expulsion from the Russia Federation, depending on that nation’s shifting whims, e.g. Crimea and Ukraine these last two years." Genevieve Arlie, MDash
"Chapters filled with a babbling stream of consciousness form an ethnographic tour de force, and cover a wealth of rich local history, mixed in with traditional customs and their intersection with modern life of the 31 ethnic groups of Dagestan." Robert Chenciner, Open Democracy
"My literary education includes many of the great twentieth-century novelists of world literature, such as Salman Rushdie, Carlos Fuentes, Isabel Allende, and Günter Grass. . . . I was only through the first 100 pages of Alisa Ganieva's novel The Mountain and the Wall when I realized I had been reading something equally delectable, enchanting, and momentous. Ganieva reveals herself to be a top-tier storyteller on a par with these greats. The Mountain and the Wall is broad and sweeping in its historical consciousness, its mythologizing, and its narrativizingits ability to make some of the most mundane acts the basis of an engrossing story." Frank Garrett, My Crash Course
"I have to be honest and admit straight away that I’d never even heard of Dagestan until I read this book, so I come to write this review more tentatively than I might usually. In a way, though, that’s quite appropriate; because it seems to me that Ganieva’s novel is very much concerned with hearsay and the limits of knowledge." David Hebblethwaite
"A fascinating story . . . a book I’d recommend, as much for the exotic (?) setting as for the story. A well-written insight into a foreign land, Ganieva’s novel shows the western reader a completely different side of Russia, one few of us would have encountered before. It’s just another example of why we need translation and more women in translation, of course " Tony Malone, Tony's Reading List
"A superb book . . . An excellent story about the rise of Islam, the fate of the republics in post-Soviet Russia and the traditions of a people little known in the West." The Modern Novel
"The Mountain and the Wall is a major event in contemporary Russian literature." Ulrich M. Schmid, Neue Zürcher Zeitung
About the Author
Dr. Carol Apollonio is Professor of the Practice of Russian at Duke University. Her most recent translation is German Sadulaev's The Maya Pill (Dalkey Archive, 2014). In addition to being an accomplished translator, Dr. Apollonio is also a scholar specializing in the works of Fyodor Dostoevsky and Chekhov and on problems of translation. She is the author of the monograph Dostoevsky's Secrets (2009), and she has edited volumes and numerous articles on nineteenth century Russian literature. She was awarded the Russian Ministry of Culture’s Chekhov Medal in 2010, and she currently serves as President of the North American Dostoevsky Society.
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Top Customer Reviews
the premise is pretty simple; at some nebulous point in close future russia separates itself from the northern caucasian region with the rampart, a berlin wall analogue, leaving the country to fend for itself. there's a flurry of confusion and misinformation and jockeying for power going on while life tries to go as usual, and then, of course, the not-quite homegrown salafi movement takes over, with all the accompanying violence. the novel is a scattershot of several intertwined character stories, the viewpoint characters (shamil, a young apathetic journalist; asya, an ill-fitting bookish girl; mahmud tagirovich, a washed-out mediocre writer; madina, an ideology-driven girl who married a vahhabit guy for love and religious fervor) mostly try to keep going on as well as they can, while their world slowly falls apart around them, metaphorically and literally, and somewhere over the book the mythological Holiday Mountain, an invisible paradise-like aul keeping the best of all traditions, keeps a silent watch.
i wouldn't have forgiven this book to a russian author, to an outsider; there's a lot of ugly, complicated tension about daghestan-within-russia, and i'm touchy about it to a -nth degree. but ganieva is ~one of us, in the way, and she gets both awful (shamil's character and his unthinking, familiar misogyny, oh god; the way it all circles back to the way women survive in this world, both before and after) and lovely (the people; the colors; the energy; the memory) parts equally well, and shows instead of being judgmental. there's surprisingly little bleakness and despair in this book, for all it's basically an armageddon narrative, and i love it for it.
It would be selling the book short if that was all that I focused on, and truthfully the pernicious "-ism" could have taken any flavor and the characters would have still been compelling. If you like Camus' "The Stranger" and its anti-hero I think the main protagonist will appeal to you, though he is not Meursault transposed to Dagestan.
I found him to be quite un-chivalrous and with a very satisfying (if subtle) moral arc to his story.