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The Eighth Life (for Brilka) (2014)

by Nino Haratischwili

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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3442055,713 (4.42)43
‘That night Stasia took an oath, swearing to learn the recipe by heart and destroy the paper. And when she was lying in her bed again, recalling the taste with all her senses, she was sure that this secret recipe could heal wounds, avert catastrophes, and bring people happiness. But she was wrong.’ At the start of the twentieth century, on the edge of the Russian Empire, a family prospers. It owes its success to a delicious chocolate recipe, passed down the generations with great solemnity and caution. A caution which is justified: this is a recipe for ecstasy that carries a very bitter aftertaste …Stasia learns it from her Georgian father and takes it north, following her new husband, Simon, to his posting at the centre of the Russian Revolution in St Petersburg. Stasia’s is only the first in a symphony of grand but all too often doomed romances that swirl from sweet to sour in this epic tale of the red century. Tumbling down the years, and across vast expanses of longing and loss, generation after generation of this compelling family hears echoes and sees reflections. Great characters and greater relationships come and go and come again; the world shakes, and shakes some more, and the reader rejoices to have found at last one of those glorious old books in which you can live and learn, be lost and found, and make indelible new friends.… (more)

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» See also 43 mentions

English (9)  Dutch (5)  German (3)  Spanish (1)  Latvian (1)  All languages (19)
Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
I really don’t know where to start discussing or describing this novel. As this is my first review of 2021, I might ease in to things gently by pandering to my constant inner flippant schoolboy, and declare that it is far and away the best book by a Georgian writer that I have read all year (or, indeed, all this century). To be honest, however, I am now wondering whether it is quite simply the finest book of any provenance that I have read this century. I finished it a few days ago, but have only just started to try to capture my thoughts about it, and am pretty certain that I will lamentably fail to do it justice.

It has drawn a lot of media attention, and has been nominated for several awards, including the International Booker Prize. I have also seen it described as a Georgian War and Peace. To my shame, I haven’t read Tolstoy’s classic so I can’t comment on that comparison, but the glowing encomia that are strewn over the cover, and occupy the first two or three pages are all entirely merited.

At the simplest level, it tells the story of Georgia throughout the twentieth century. And what a story! The novel casually encompasses the First World War, the Russian Revolution and the civil strife that ensued, the establishment of Stalin’s regime (although, apart from one heart-breaking yet curiously apposite joke delivered in a moment of extreme stress by one of the principal characters, neither he nor his brutal sidekick Lavrenti Beria – both Georgians, of course – are ever mentioned by name), the Second World War, Stalin’s continuing terrors, the Cold War, the fall of the Berlin Wall, Gorbachev’s perestroika, the dissolution of the USSR and, eventually, a return to some form of independence.

Yet it is so much more than a simple procession through the cataclysmic stream of events that beset the various characters peopling the pages. It is a powerful saga, following six generations of one family, covering the whole of the twentieth century, but switching its focus between characters as their respective stories predominate.

Ms Haratischvili manages a huge cast of characters, all of whom stand out in clear relief with their own finely drawn personalities. Stasia, born with the century, initially appears as the favoured daughter of a local chocolatier, who had learned his art in Budapest but returned to his native Georgia, where his luxurious product ensures a certain prosperity. From her first appearance as an over-indulged teenager, Stasia sees her adolescent dreams flourish then disintegrate as war and revolution intervene. But she has a deep reserve contends with serial adversities and emerges as a matriarchal figure, revered, and perhaps feared by the rest of her family.

I won’t even try to offer a synopsis of the story. There are so many different, intricately interlaced threads, each beautifully constructed, that I would fail utterly to do them justice. They do all cohere into a marvellous tapestry, and I am still reeling from the vivd pictures it paints.

I am also intrigued by the translation. Ms Haratischvili has lived in Germany for much of her life, and writes in both German and Georgian. This novel, however, was written in German. I have often felt a certain trepidation about reading such a huge work in translation, but the English version that I read flows seamlessly, so I would also extend a shout out to the translators (with a further nod to the author for whom this masterpiece was written in what is at least her second language). ( )
  Eyejaybee | Jan 12, 2021 |
LibraryThing doesn't have the title quite right, it is " The Eighth Life (for Brilka).

Brilka, a teen when her aunt Niza puts these stories to paper, is to be the eighth person chronicled. Niza has always loved her great-grandmother Stasia's stories: listening to them is one of the favorite memories of her childhood. As a 30-something, she learns more about some of the people in the stories, and begins to put them to paper. For Brilka to know where she comes from and to ground her.

So, the stories? This novel follows several generations of Niza and Brilka's family in and near Tbilisi, Georgia, from 1900 to 2000--the "red century". There is romance, revolution, protests, military service, war, dance, music, acting, carving, school, love, hate, murder, friendship, plenty of violence, and of course a chocolate recipe handed down from the 19th century.

It is 933 pages, but it is very readable. I got a bit bogged down in one character's story arc, which I did not find interesting at all, but that's just me. Within this novel is a framework of 20th century Georgian history, some of which I knew, and some of which I didn't. I did a fair amount of reading on wikipedia and looking at places on google maps while reading this book. ( )
  Dreesie | Oct 11, 2020 |
Once I finished this amazing family tale, the gold was worn off the cover in places, but the memories that made for a story told well will remained with me.
I felt part of this family as I traveled with them through time and history; as they shared with me all the threads of their woven carpet, generations old.
This book has everything, except that hot chocolate recipe written out to ease my book hangover.

I loved this amazing book. ( )
  ShannonRose4 | Sep 15, 2020 |
Once I finished this amazing family tale, the gold was worn off the cover in places, but the memories that made for a story told well will remained with me.
I felt part of this family as I traveled with them through time and history; as they shared with me all the threads of their woven carpet, generations old.
This book has everything, except that hot chocolate recipe written out to ease my book hangover.

I loved this amazing book. ( )
  ShannonRose4 | Sep 15, 2020 |
I picked this up to read,having heard so much about it and it did not disappoint. This was an epic read that spanned 5 generations. I read half the book before changing to read it on my e-reader and then found myself whizzing through the book, once the change of format had been made.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book on so many levels, but especially enjoyed the history it covered. It is a book that will bring out many emotions in the reader. I am still thinking about the characters. I didn't want the book to end! ( )
  Carole888 | May 2, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Haratischwili, Ninoprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Collins, CharlotteTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Martin, RuthTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Information from the German Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
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Epigraph
Information from the German Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
"Es sind die Zeiten, die herrschen, nicht die Könige" Georgisches Sprichwort
Dedication
Für meine Großmutter, die mir tausend Geschichten und ein Gedicht schenkte.
Für meinen Vater, der mir eine Tasche voller Fragen hinterließ.
Und für meine Mutter, die mir sagte, wo ich die Antworten suchen soll.
For my grandmother, who gifted me 1,000 stories and a poem. For my father, who left me with a bag full of questions. And for my mother, who told me where to seek the answers.
First words
Eigentlich hat diese Geschichte mehrere Anfänge.
This story actually has many beginnings. It's hard for me to choose one, because all of them constitute "the beginning."
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Wikipedia in English (1)

‘That night Stasia took an oath, swearing to learn the recipe by heart and destroy the paper. And when she was lying in her bed again, recalling the taste with all her senses, she was sure that this secret recipe could heal wounds, avert catastrophes, and bring people happiness. But she was wrong.’ At the start of the twentieth century, on the edge of the Russian Empire, a family prospers. It owes its success to a delicious chocolate recipe, passed down the generations with great solemnity and caution. A caution which is justified: this is a recipe for ecstasy that carries a very bitter aftertaste …Stasia learns it from her Georgian father and takes it north, following her new husband, Simon, to his posting at the centre of the Russian Revolution in St Petersburg. Stasia’s is only the first in a symphony of grand but all too often doomed romances that swirl from sweet to sour in this epic tale of the red century. Tumbling down the years, and across vast expanses of longing and loss, generation after generation of this compelling family hears echoes and sees reflections. Great characters and greater relationships come and go and come again; the world shakes, and shakes some more, and the reader rejoices to have found at last one of those glorious old books in which you can live and learn, be lost and found, and make indelible new friends.

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Book description
'That night Stasia took an oath, swearing to learn the recipe by heart and destroy the paper. And when she was lying in her bed again, recalling the taste with all her senses, she was sure that this secret recipe could heal wounds, avert catastrophes, and bring people happiness. But she was wrong.'

At the start of the twentieth century, on the edge of the Russian empire, a family prospers. It owes its success to a delicious chocolate recipe, passed down the generations with great solemnity and caution. A caution which is justified: this is a recipe for ecstasy that carries a very bitter aftertaste …

Stasia learns it from her Georgian father and takes it north, following her new husband Simon to his posting at the centre of the Russian Revolution in St Petersburg. But Stasia's will be but the first of a symphony of grand, but all too often doomed romances that swirl from sweet to sour in this epic tale of the red century.

Tumbling down the years, and across vast expanses of longing and loss, generation after generation of this compelling family hears echoes and sees reflections. Great characters and greater relationships come and go and come again; the world shakes, and shakes some more, and the reader rejoices to have found at last one of those glorious old books in which you can live and learn, be lost and found, and make indelible new friends.
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