It’s too tempting not to start this review in my Michael Caine voice: the earliest surviving piece of Georgian literature, a hagiographic life of St Shushanik, dates back to round about AD 480. Not many people know that. Not many people know all that much about Georgian literature per se, if it comes down to it. A case in point: the best cover blurb this novel can find is an extract from a history of Georgian literature written by the novel’s translator. This might make us suspicious – is this a niche literature in a ‘minor’ language, only of interest to a few specialists?
And yet, and yet… The translator is the splendid Donald Rayfield, a historian who has done more than anyone else alive to promote the cause of Georgian writing in English; and the novel, Kvachi, is fantastic. It’s a kind of Caucasian version of the Flashman books, the life story of