Friday, April 29, 2016

Review note: don't read "Venus Plus X" by Theodore Sturgeon

Review note for this book: don't read it.


Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Akhenaton's Egypt: the world's first monotheistic and Marxist kingdom

This monumental historical novel about ancient Egypt depicts highly turbulent period at the end of 18th dynasty of Egypt (14th century BC).

The novel is a first-person narration by Sinuhe, an Egyptian physician to Pharaoh Akhenaton. 

The novel is conceptually divided in three parts. First part is mostly about Sinuhe's travel to Syria, Babylon, Mitanni, Hittite Kingdom and Crete.  

Second part tells the story of Pharaoh Akhenaton. It was this Pharaoh who introduced a monotheistic cult of Aton. When I was reading this part of the novel it was obvious to me that the author makes connection between Aton cult and its resemblance to early christian philosophy practiced in 1st century AD. 

Moreover, according to novel, Pharaoh Akhenaton even tried to transform Egyptian society into class-less society, very similar to what ordinarily are thought of Communist and Marxist societies.

As expected such radical ideas were not welcomed by Egyptian upper classes and in the end, Pharaoh Akhenaton was forced to commit suicide.

Third part of the novel tells the story following Pharaoh Akhenaton's death. It depicts brief reign of young Pharaoh Tutankhamon (whose original name was Tutankhaton) and the novel ends with Pharaoh Horemheb and the beginning of 19th dynasty (e.g. Ramses II).

This is quite long novel but though occasionally it is boring overall it is well written and interesting to read. 

posted by David Usharauli

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Review of "An Instance of the Fingerpost" by Iain Pears

This novel is a masterpiece of the historical fiction. It is so fluid and high-paced that it's a total delight to read it. I did not think it was so good a book. Even the meaning of its title becomes apparent at the end of novel with the reference to Francis Bacon.

Basically, the story is set in England following restoration, more specifically in 1663 in Oxford. A prominent member of Oxford community is found dead in his apartment and local young girl is accused of that crime. 

Meanwhile, as the story develops, we see how this young girl would cross her path with 4 different individuals. Few years later all these 4 individuals would write memoirs concerning this period in Oxford and provide their view of the events.

As expected, each of the stories are shown from different angle and with few exceptions give totally different account and conclusions.

The full depth of the story is only revealed at the very end of the novel and it is completely unexpected.

Great read.

                                              posted by David Usharauli     

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Review of "The Kingdom of Georgia" By Oliver Wardrop, published in 1888

This is a real account of travel by Oliver Wardrop, a British subject, in Kingdom of Georgia in 19th century. It is always fascinating for me to read such notes to understand evolution of national identity and so on. What's Kingdom of Georgia? 

Kingdom of Georgia corresponds to the present day Georgia, former Soviet Union country, located between Black and Caspian sees. 

Kingdom of Georgia as a political entity had not existed since late 15th century. It was divided into several small principalities each ruled by own "Kings". Russian conquest of Caucasian territories in 19th century allowed 3rd unification of Georgian lands under Russian Empire (1st unification happened in 12th century, 2nd one in 14th century). 

Russian, however, abolished Georgian Kingdom (and its Bagrationi Royal House) and incorporated it into their own territory as a separate vice-royal province. 

It was at this time when Oliver Wardrop visited Georgia (around 1880s). So it is quite strange that he still refers to it as Kingdom of Georgia. Though his book's full title reads as "The Kingdom of Georgia: Notes of Travel in a Land of Woman, Wine and Song", there are almost nothing about either women, wine or songs there. So it is quite surprising title for me.

Oliver Wardrop's travel to Kingdom of Georgia starts with Black See port town of Batumi. He shortly describes town and then proceed to Kutaisi and from there to capital city of Tiflis (modern day Tbilisi).

Book is filled with few photos. For example, this guy on the left is referred in the Book as Georgian in national costume. What is strange about this costume is that it looks nothing like a national costume modern day Georgian imagine as their "true" national costume.

Another interesting point about this book is that it is filled with georgian words that have no modern meaning in modern Georgian language. For example, when talking about feast, Oliver Wardrop mentions that wine drinking is directed by a person called a "tolumbash" (toastmaster). But there is no such word in modern day Georgia that refers to toastmaster. Apparently origin of this word is Armenian. Now, there were lots of Armenians living within Kingdom of Georgia then and now. Either Armenian words were more frequently used in Georgia [by Georgians] in 19th century or Oliver Wardrop were dining with Armenians living in Georgia. However he is very specific for separating Georgians from Armenians and for some reason he tends to think of Armenians who were mostly running all the businesses in Georgia in 19th century as untrustworthy people, while as the same time praising local Georgians as a simple, honest and innocent people, though lazy as well.  

Since Oliver Wardrop was involved in translations of Georgian literature into English, he showed 19th century Georgian alphabet in his book (on the left). When I first saw it I was surprised that I could not recognize some of the letters. When I did little research about this subject I found out that 5 letters were indeed removed from Georgian alphabet at the end of 19th century. It was new to me and I am glad that I learned something new about evolution of Georgian alphabet from this century old book.

In summary, this book provided relatively little novel information regarding living conditions of Georgia in 19th century. Frequently, the author notes are filled with mistakes about history and so on.

Still, since it is short book it is useful to read for someone who is curious about Georgian history as seen by European traveler in 19th century. I was disappointed that Oliver Wardrop did not mention anything about the origin of word "Georgia" since in georgian language name for "Georgia" is something entirely different (Saqartvelo). I am very curious to know who and when word "Georgia" was coined in reference to Kingdom of Georgia.

posted by David Usharauli