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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


სამხრეთული სპილო

Archil Kikodze

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Title: სამხრეთული სპილო
Author: Archil Kikodze
Genre: Novel
Written: 2016
Length: 276 pages
Original in: Georgian
Availability: Der Südelefant - Deutschland
  • სამხრეთული სპილო has not yet been translated into English

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Our Assessment:

B : decent, (r)ambling city/culture novel

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Die Welt . 9/10/2018 Richard Kämmerlings

  From the Reviews:
  • "Archil Kikodzes Tiflis-Roman Der Südelefant ist vielleicht das bedeutendste literarische Dokument dieses Geisteszustands, zugleich das Porträt einer Stadt im rasanten Wandel und das einer verlorenen Generation. (...) Das ist sehr gegenwärtig und scharf beobachtet, und doch wie unter einer Doppelbelichtung: An jeder Stelle scheint die Vergangenheit wie ein Palimpsest in die Gegenwart." - Richard Kämmerlings, Die Welt

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

[Note: This review is based on Nino Haratischwili and Martin Büttner's 2018 German translation of სამხრეთული სპილო, Der Südelefant. All quotes are my translation of the German text.]

       The 'southern elephant' (or mammoth) -- Archidiskodon meridionalis -- of the title appears in a photograph in the narrator's apartment, of him with his close friend Tazo, taken when they are about ten, at the Georgian National Museum in Tbilisi, the picture dominated by the elephant-skeleton in its oversized glass case. It's a document and reminder of pasts -- recent as well as historic --, a bit of nostalgia, and a reminder of a time of wider-eyed imagination (the skeleton was found in the Taribani Field, and: "Back then I imagined this Taribani field as some kind of magic place where elephants roamed" -- in contrast to its actual desolation).
       სამხრეთული სპილო is a single-day novel, and a city novel. The narrator lends his apartment to longtime friend Tazo for his rendezvous with a woman and has to make himself scarce; with no real obligations, he spends the day wandering the familiar streets -- he's at home at practically every turn -- of the Georgian capital of Tbilisi. He runs into familiar faces and old friends; he keeps up with others over social media. He is very much in the here and now, yet his wanderings also make for a descent -- and occasionally free-fall -- into nostalgia, and darker moments from the past.
       The narrator lives alone. He was married, to Elene, and they have a child, a daughter studying at college in the United States, Keto. His great love, Nelly, is also abroad -- traveling with her husband ... --, but at least he is able to follow the lives of these important women in his life, and connect with them to some extent, via his smartphone.
       He's old enough to have grown up under the Soviet regime. He and Tazo studied film, and in that long state-controlled industry with limited resources he, like many, long had to wait for his opportunity to direct a film. He did then enjoy modest success with his one feature, and was able to do the film festival circuit, seeing a bit of the world, but he's put that behind him -- seemingly without too much regret -- and abandoned his grander directorial ambitions and settled into advertising work.
       The narrator isn't provincial, but he's tied to Tbilisi. Though he has traveled fairly widely through Europe, he realizes that he's never spent more than two weeks anywhere abroad; meanwhile, he follows Nelly's far-flung travels on his phone, while his daughter is half a world away (in some New England college hinterlands). Others, meanwhile, are similarly anchored to Georgia: he amusingly describes one friends he runs into, who briefly planned escape as an eighteen-year-old, under still-Soviet times, sniffing the air in German Kiel and then turning tail -- and has since never once ventured from Georgia, despite the now more open borders. Another character he runs into is a German woman who has made her life here, coming here fifteen years ago to study and escape from the strictures of life in her homeland, only to find herself eventually stuck in just some different way in her adopted homeland.
       Repeatedly, the narrator recalls episodes from the past, including those that marked Tazo and him. The post-Soviet Georgian turmoil, and the different factions involved -- not least his mother's dedicated activism --, have left their sometimes painful traces, but in these calmer times much feels all smoothed out: his meanderings are, for the most part, a picture of calm.
       Social media does alert him to something perhaps being up with Tazo's son, fifteen-year-old Gio, and he reaches out to him. Understanding the situation the boy has gotten himself in, he involves himself, and tries to straighten things out, in a conclusion that becomes more confrontational -- and reminds him of something Tazo himself went through, and continues to be weighed down by.
       სამხრეთული სპილო isn't neatly rounded off. The day, and the characters' adventures, come to some end, but hardly a conclusive one. The narrator finds satisfactions in the steps he has taken, and his connections to friends and loved ones; even where there's a sense of the open-ended, and loose ends, he's okay with where he is at this point in his life. Place and surroundings -- even if his daughter, for example, is, for now, only present via telephone-connection -- make for a home in which he feels reasonably at ease and comfortable.
       A Tbilisi- (and Georgia-) novel, სამხრეთული სპილო doesn't have the scope or ambition of many city-novels (above all, of course, Ulysses, which it does allude to, the narrator at one point toying with the idea of making his day a Dublinesque pub tour), but its intimacy and the almost small-town familiarity found at every corner suit the city and subject(s). Tazo's day-long rendezvous at the narrator's place does seem under-utilized, especially given the importance of Tazo in the narrator's life (as also made clear by his prominent place in many of the retrospective sections) -- and, then, bringing Gio into it, one of the story's twists. And Kikodze doesn't quite manage to adequately tie in the violence that hovers beneath and around, whether in cases of teen bullying or the armed ethnic conflict that occasionally wracked Georgia in the post-Soviet era, an unresolved contrast to the otherwise largely laid back feel of the narrator's jaunt.
       სამხრეთული სპილო is a solid story of a place, and its recent history, a neat tour not so much of sites and specifics as of a culture and people, a slice of Georgia from Soviet through more recent times. (As far as the walking-tour goes, however, it's regrettable that at least in the German edition there isn't a convenient city-map included in the book, making it easier to follow the narrator's paths.)

- M.A.Orthofer, 22 May 2019

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სამხრეთული სპილო: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Georgian author Archil Kikodze (არჩილ ქიქოძე) was born in 1972.

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© 2019 the complete review

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