Alisa Ganieva‘s The Mountain and the Wall, translated by Carol Apollonio, with an introduction by Ronald Meyer (Harriman Institute of Slavic Studies at Columbia University). Publication date: June 30, 2015
Reviews of The Mountain and the Wall:
One of the privileges of working in a bookshop is the discovery of new writers and new literary landscapes—and being able to pass on these discoveries to you lovely folks. This novel from Dagestan certainly does the trick. Ganieva’s polyphonic book has been making waves on the continent and looks set to provoke equal amounts of debate and excitement here. This is a portrait of a society fragmenting into violent ethnic and ideological divisions, where the voices of moderation are at risk of being drowned out by extreme interpretations of religious doctrine. It is a plea for plurality and humanism and a celebration of the cultural diversity of Dagestan. Vivid, timely, gripping, and really quite magical, it cements Ganieva’s position as one of the most exciting young voices in Russian fiction.
It all makes for a fascinating story, one a western reader will be intrigued by (the idea of what might happen in a Muslim takeover is a topic many will be interested in). It has a much wider application than just Dagestan, though, as the story shows how quickly a seemingly stable society can collapse when authority fails. . . . 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…
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.
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.
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.
- Review in David Hebblethwaite’s Book Blog (June 18, 2015)
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.
- Review in The Modern Novel (June 15, 2015)
This is a superb book, giving us the Islamisation aspect from an insider’s point of view. There is a certain level of chaos in the novel, by which I mean, it jumps around. This, however, is definitely a positive, as it it gives us an impressionistic view of what is happening in post-Wall Dagestan, both the rise of a traditional Islam view and sharia law, as well as the viewpoint of those who are opposed and those who hover somewhere between the two, i.e. the Russians are bad and we should return to our old ways but this might be too extreme. There is no doubt that Ganieva sees the Islamisation as negative but she is quick to point out the failures of both the Soviet and post-Soviet systems. Just as importantly, for us, the readers, she tells 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.