I’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