ქუთაისი ქალაქია
Sani Publishers 2002 
100 pages



The novel’s main characters are a German prisoner, Otto Schulz, and a small boy, Varlam. The book tells the story of Varlam’s ‘child’s old age’: when he became ten years old. Varlam’s mother was a violinist (as well as a seamstress and a teacher of German), but all that they know about Varlam’s father is his postal address: 12A894236793 (i.e. the GULag). The few other indicators are his surname, first name and short biography. Kutaisi is a City is brought to life by impressions and dreams of childhood, but the writer brings them to life against his own will, as he settles accounts with the past, or frees himself from it. If we look at it in this way, we may understand why the young Varlam puts up with injustice, mockery, violence and cruelty as if they were normal, why he struggles with them only in his feverish illusions and even then shows not the slightest aggression. The situation described in this work is one where kindness makes no sense at all, is absurd and that is why it enters the list of characters as someone called Ermonia, the guardian angel of Kutaisi, who appears unexpectedly, sometimes as an Opel Kapitan automobile, sometimes as an electrical engineer, only to disappear without trace. When Stalin visits Kutaisi, the angel nearly has hysterics in order to make the Leader sign papers that will reprieve a couple of men. The main events are connected with the May Day parade. During the measures taken before the parade, where height is traditional, they find that Varlam’s shoes have two- or three-centimetre heels made from newspapers and it turns out that instead of the ‘obligatory’ 130 centimetres he is only 127 centimetres tall. So he is not allowed to take part in the parade, and this so upsets the boy that the Tikaradze brothers take away his scooter, and it is now that Otto Schulz enters his life. He pleads on behalf of the boy and shows the Kutaisi angel no mercy for the sake of two centimetres and three wheel bearings. Disable war veterans intervene with a protest: ‘Just because I’m a metre short, does that mean I can’t take part?’ This is followed by the disruption of the parade, by interrogation and a thousand other misfortunes, but finally the intervention of the great Leader Stalin crowns everything: he has come to Tsqaltubo for a break… and this is only one of the pearls of joy and sadness which are scattered all through the novel. As for the novel’s title, Kutaisi is a City, that is ironical, because nothing is mentioned of the life of that city. Instead of a unified action, here the action is split up, fragmentary, and there is no essential link between these fragments. Anyone who knows Gabriadze’s work, knows that plot is secondary for him – Rezo Gabriadze is an artist of situations. In describing the period after World War II, the author seasons the very grim social background, the cruel, tense relationships between people, with almost entirely unmotivated kindness. Kutaisi as Rezo Gabriadze sees it is a city where the weak suffer violence, but this violent force doesn’t suffocate you; it is portrayed with black humour and with details that only Rezo Gabriadze is capable of supplying. It arouses not so much sympathy as a melancholy smile. One of the themes is that of German prisoners of war in Kutaisi, and this is something elaborated in a novel way: what is their mood and what do the locals think of them? Who is in captivity – them or us? Sometimes they look down on the Germans, for after all they are PoWs, sometimes they appreciate them and understand that these people have culture and the consequences of that culture are visible. This dual attitude of the population towards the prisoners is something that the novel makes clear. A light perception of grim existence, grim reality, and the light way in which it is portrayed is one of the novel’s chief artistic merits. Everything is in the lightness of touch.

‘When reading Kutaisi is a City many hitherto unconscious associations are aroused. Here it is not only Rezo Gabriadze’s characters, scenarios and performances that you are reminded of, but also, for example, Woody Allen, with the simultaneously refined and eccentric humour of his prose, or the film Sky over Berlin [Wings of Desire], where angels befriend and rescue human beings, and stroll through Berlin, smoking cigarettes, just like Rezo Gabriadze’s wartime Kutaisi.’    

P. Javakhishvili, literary critic / Radio Liberty

‘This really is the greatest of memorisations. His system of artistic images is extremely personal, it has an intimate quality and brings a poetic, transcendental realism into the theatre. I do not know of any other similar system. The gigantic experience which is the norm in various theatrical spheres has given him the means to attain the ideal any director sets himself, such as Gordon Craig would want. His artistry magnifies the European theatre with its artistic power and positive human outlook, and at a time when the theatre most needs it.’    

Peter Brook

‘I love Georgia. That country has given me many a happy day. I remember my friends – Rezo Gabriadze, who in my view is one of the best artists in the world.’    

Tonino Guerra

Translated into German by Iwa Mindadse und Lydia Nagel

„Genosse.“ Am Zaun stand ein Unteroffizier der Inneren mit einer Maschinenpistole. Neben ihm ein großer, dünner deutscher Kriegsgefangener, der auf seiner österreichisch adlig gebogenen Nase eine Brille mit nur einem Glas trug. Das glaslose Auge war geschlossen, was seinem Blick ein noch stolzeres Aussehen verlieh. In der Hand hielt er einen frisch geschnitzten Stab aus Kornelkirsche.
Der Deutsche besserte flink eine Latte im Zaun aus und ging mit dem Unteroffizier auf den Hof.
Die Großmutter lief mit dem Brot ins Haus.
„Übernehmen Sie den Gefangenen und unterschreiben Sie hier“, sagte der Unteroffizier und tippte mit Papier und Bleistift gegen den Bauch des Großvaters.
„Ich werde ihn ganz bestimmt nicht übernehmen.“ Der Großvater trat zur Seite. „Und unterschreiben tu ich auch nichts.“
„Und ob du das unterschreibst.“
„Ich unterschreibe nichts.“
„Ich unterschreibe.“ Die Großmutter kam aus dem Haus. Sie trug Galoschen und auf dem Kopf lag das Schmuckstück: ein Stofffetzen. Großmutter setzte ein Kreuz auf das Papier und dann noch einen Punkt hinter das Kreuz.
Der Unteroffizier salutierte mit einem tschekistischen Gruß in der Luft, hievte sich über den Zaun und ging in Richtung Kolonie, wo schon die Baracken gebaut wurden.
Der Großvater nahm seine Hacke und lief ins Tal.
Der Gefangene drehte sich zu Warlam um und stellte sich vor: „Schulz.“
Dann ging er zu dem kleinen Huhn, das mit einer Kordel an einem Autogetriebe angebunden war, bückte sich und streichelte es langsam. Vorsichtig befreite er es, dann nahm er ein kleines geschnitztes, exakt gleichwinkliges Dreieck aus der Tasche, schob es dem Huhn über den Kopf, befestigte es und warf es in den Himmel, das gejochte Huhn plumpste zu Boden und fing an, Achten zu laufen. Schulz war zufrieden.
„Alles gut“, sagte vorsichtig die Großmutter, band eine Ziege mit genauso einem Dreiecksjoch los und führte sie ins Gebüsch.
Plötzlich wurde Schulz seriös. Er schlug an sein Knie, stand auf, sagte: „Arbeiten“ und ging zu dem Hügelchen. Dort stand in den Farnen und Brennnesseln ein Plumpsklo. Anstelle einer Tür hing ein zerrissener, von Regen und Sonne völlig ausgebleichter Regenmantel davor... (See PDF)

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