Book review: "Improbable Abkhazie" by Leon Colm
Commentary, current affairs and book reviews from Abkhazia and the wider Caucasus
Improbable Abkhazia – Récits d’un État-fiction
Leon Colm (Illustrations: Francesca Devalier)
Éditions Autrement, Paris
When Leon Colm first came to Abkhazia in 2000, he was already a seasoned academic. His initial aim was to investigate a state that was not meant to exist, and accordingly, he started out by interviewing government officials. However, the canonical narrative did not satisfy Colm — he felt it had been shaped to justify the state of Abkhazia under the pressure of a largely hostile outside world. Thus Colm changed his approach, seeking out contact with ordinary Abkhazians instead. He returned to Abkhazia the next year and before long he found himself travelling to Abkhazia every year. Improbable Abkhazie is the account of some of Colm’s encounters and his quest to discover the sense of Abkhazia.
Among the people featured in the book are the poet Liana and her violin playing daughter Ezma. Liana starts out as English Professor at University but is reduced to running a kiosk after she is ‘gently’ lain off by the Rector.
There is Vladimir, whose acquaintance Colm first makes when he needs a driver, but who grows into a proper guide. Vladimir shows Colm the ruins of the beautiful Gulripsh Sanatorium, spared during the 1992-1993 war but subsequently sacked by Abkhazian looters.
Daour, the governmnent’s youngest official, whose pilot father became a Soviet hero after safely landing a plane whose engines had all failed.
Kolya, son of a decorated WWII paratrooper and younger brother of a famous Abkhazian general, who is himself fighting to ban anti-personel mines and has otherwise resigned himself to speleology. In one episode, he shows Colm the sacred mountain of Dydrypsh, which is said to multiply a hundred times one’s thoughts.
And there is the interpreter Natella, who judges every newcomer by their opinion of Le Petit Prince.
Colm admits that these people are not necessarily representative of Abkhazia. And he concludes that he has not found an answer to the impossible question what Abkhazia ‘is’. But he has managed to give Abkhazia human faces. Improbable Abkhazie, humble though it may be, is a pleasure to read. It is recommended reading for anyone who is in any way involved in Abkhazia, and for anybody who would like to be.