Avelum was the fifth novel by Otar Chiladze, who died in 2009. It was first published in Georgian in 1995, and now appears in an English translation by Donald Rayfield, a connoisseur of Russian and Georgian literature. Set in the period between two anti-Soviet demonstrations in Tbilisi – the first in March 1956 and the second in April 1989 – it tells the story of Avelum, a Georgian writer living in the USSR. His name, Chiladze explains, means ‘free citizen with full civic rights’. It is a bitter work, full of frustration, sadness and scepticism.
Chiladze ruthlessly diagnoses the condition of the USSR in its final decades. It’s a place in which a scientist cuts the throat of a seven-year-old girl with the rusty lid of a jam jar, a doctor murders and rapes his patients and a cannibalistic barber lives alongside underage whores, drunks,