The Pear Field by Nana Ekvtimishvili (transl. Elizabeth Heighway): Not the best days of your life

Cover image for The Pear Field by Nana EkvtimishviliI’ve learned not to expect a cheery read from Peirene Press. The closest I’ve got is Guđmundur Andri Thorsson’s And the Wind Sees All. I know that what I will get is an insight into a country and its culture, often one that I may never visit and even if I did, might see only the shiny surface apparent to tourists. Nana Ekvtimishvili’s The Pear Field took me to the outskirts of Georgia’s Tbilisi and into the School for Intellectually Disabled Children or the School for Idiots as the locals call it.

Lena knows nothing about her early years, only that she was brought to the school from a children’s home when it was time to start her education, regardless of her evident intelligence. Now she’s eighteen, she’s keen to leave but there are two things she must do before she can start her new life: make sure nine-year-old Irakli is settled then kill the deputy head. Every week Lena shepherds Irakli to the kind neighbour who lets him ring his mother to hear yet another empty promise until he’s picked by an American couple keen to adopt a Georgian child. As the year wears on, Lena finds a way for Irakli to learn English, insisting he’s taught to swear so that he can hold his own in America, until the day comes for him to leave with his new parents. By the end of The Pear Field only one part of Lena’s plan will have been fulfilled and not quite in the way she expected.

What do you need a mother for anyway? You know how to walk and talk, how to eat! 

Ekvtimishvili’s novella is written from Lena’s perspective, painting a picture of a crumbling institution where every small repair is a struggle to fund. The roof never stops leaking, the padlock on the door to stop the children bouncing on their old iron beds is flimsy while staff are few and far between. Lena is the one the children look too. She knows how to survive and she’s determined that they should too. A slim thread of grim humour runs through Lena’s narrative and there are bright spots of generosity and kindness but there’s no sugar-coating of these children’s lives made all the more stark by Ekvtimishvili’s plain, unadorned writing. Although there’s hope in its ending, the route to it is brutal. Just as expected, not an easy read then but, as always with Peirene, certainly an enlightening one.

The Pear Field is the third and last in Peirene’s Closed Universe Series. Each year they publish three novellas linked by a theme or style. I can’t say I’ve enjoyed every book of theirs I’ve read but they’ve all been thought-provoking, illuminating and notable for both the writing and quality of translation. Should you like the sound of that, you can subscribe here.

Peirene Press: London 9781908670601 163 pages Paperback

19 thoughts on “The Pear Field by Nana Ekvtimishvili (transl. Elizabeth Heighway): Not the best days of your life”

  1. Like you, I’ve yet to come across a Peirene book that is cheerful. Rather I expect them to be darker, or to show a different side of life. They are always interesting, though often uncomfortable. I think that I can read them because of their length too. Knowing they aren’t too long allows for that feeling of discomfort, knowing it will only take a short time to read the book.

  2. I do love that they’re novella length and you’re so right that they take you places you’ve likely never been, but I do find that after a while I start avoiding them on the shelf. I wish they’d surprise us with something out of character. The cover looks beautiful too.

  3. I’ve read several Peirene books, and you’re right – they’re full of insight but rarely cheery reads. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, but perhaps explains why I don’t read them regulary. I think I have to be in the right mood. But as Janet says, the shortness does help. Having said this, some I’ve read have been really outstanding e.g. The Last Summer. I need to pick up some of their books I have on the TBR!

    1. They’re best kept for when you’re in a positive state of mind, I’ve found. I remember Soviet Milk was outstanding but such a gruelling read. Probably my toughest Peirene!

  4. I think the Peirene books work because they are shorter – I recently read Beside the Sea and if it had been any longer it would just have been too difficult a read, if that makes sense!

    1. It makes complete sense to me. I haven’t read Beside the Sea but have found some tougher than others – The Empress and the Cake was a close second to Soviet Milk for me.

  5. Despite how heavy this must be, I love the sound of it.
    The Peirene books are hard to find at the libraries here, so I have been tempted by the subscription. Maybe someday…

  6. I have only read two of their books, this one and Snow, Dog, Foot as part of the same series – that one I loved actually, but I agree, they have been uncomfortable reads for me.

  7. I’ve never actually read one of their books, but just from reading *about* them over the years I had to chuckle at your first sentence because I’ve come to think that way about them even without actually reading one of them! Nonetheless, I would love a subscription. And I would just choose my reading times carefully. As others have said, above, their length recommends them.

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