Book of the Week: Days in the Caucasus by Banin
'An intense story, often amusing, which plunges the reader into the most unfamiliar territory imaginable' – Verités
'A book to give those gloomy souls who find daily existence banal' - Lettres françaises
Days in the Caucasus, published in Paris, in 1945, is Banin's memoir of the history of Azerbaijan in the 1910s and 1920s, its national culture, mores and customs, drawing on the author's reminiscences.
Banin was born in the year of the first Russian revolution, her family's wealth deriving from the oil boom, when a gusher was discovered in her grandfather's farming exploitation. Her novel brings back to life her governess Fraulein Anna, who brought with her a bit of the European culture Banin would grow to become so fond of, her grandmother, a devout Muslim with a passion for cursing, whose silent confrontation was quite representative of the contrasting cultures coexisting in Baku.
Her biography zooms in and out, from the personal to the political. Ethnic tensions between Armenians and Azerbaijanis loom over the plot, while the Red Army’s arrival in Baku and the establishment of the Soviet government means that her family is stripped of its riches and forced into exile. The contrast between their lavish lifestyle and subsequent exile is deeply felt by the writer, who explains “The champagne flowed freely, to use the classical phrase; thus our world marched toward disaster.” She has to abandon the man she loves to marry a gambler, in order to secure her father a passport. The family mansion is confiscated by the Commission for the Creation of Holiday Camps. Her personal life becomes deeply intertwined with the political destiny of a nation.
She ends up leaving her husband in Istanbul to build a new life for herself in Paris, surrounded by the intellectual elite of the period, and resolute to remain free.
'A stunning book... With all the freshness of childhood memories, this is anything but some sentimental story nostalgically written in flowery script on sepia paper' - Critique des idées et des livres
'Leads us on a delightful stroll, occasionally breaking into a somewhat mad dance, across a colourful, unfamiliar world' - Paru
Day in the Caucasus is published by Pushkin Press and it was translated by Anne Thompson-Ahmadova.
Banin was born Umm El-Banu Assadullayeva in 1905, into a wealthy family in Baku (she is a granddaughter of Azerbaijani millionaire Musa Nagiyev and daughter of Azerbaijani businessman and politician Mirza Asadullayev), then part of the Russian Empire. Following the Russian Revolution and the subsequent fall of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, Banine was forced to flee her home-country - first to Istanbul, and then to Paris. In Paris she formed a wide circle of literary acquaintances including Henry de Montherlant, André Malraux, Ivan Bunin and Teffi and eventually began writing herself. Days in the Caucasus is Banine's most famous work. It was published in 1945 to critical acclaim but has never been translated into English, until now. Her other works include Parisian days (Jours parisiens, Julliard, 1947), I chose opium (J'ai choisi l'opium, Stock, 1959), Ernst Jünger multiple faces (Ernst Jünger aux faces multiples, éditions L'Âge d'Homme, 1989).
Anne Thompspn-Ahmadova is a translator, editor, writer and media consultant with a focus on Azerbaijan, the Caucasus and Russia. After an MML BA at Cambridge, she worked as a duty editor for the BBC before moving to Baku in 1997 to set up and head the BBC Monitoring Caucasus Unit. She briefly taught at the Baku Slavic University and worked as an editor and writer for a variety of Azerbaijani media, becoming the editor of Visions of Azerbaijan magazine with The European Azerbaijan Society.
Her other published translations include Kamal Abdulla's The Incomplete Manuscript and Valley of the Sorcerers, translated from Azerbaijani, and Olzhas Suleimenov's Az i Ya and Word Code, translated from Russian. She has also translated best-selling Azerbaijani author Chingiz Abdullayev's four thrillers from the Russian.
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