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Reviews of Hard by a Great Forest by Leo Vardiashvili

Hard by a Great Forest

A Novel

by Leo Vardiashvili

Hard by a Great Forest by Leo Vardiashvili X
Hard by a Great Forest by Leo Vardiashvili
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  • Published:
    Jan 2024, 352 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Elisabeth Herschbach
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About this Book

Book Summary

Amid rubble and rebuilding in a former Soviet land, one family must rescue one another and put the past to rest: a stirring novel about what happens after the fighting is over

Saba is just a child when he flees the fighting in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia with his older brother, Sandro, and father, Irakli, for asylum in England. Two decades later, all three men are struggling to make peace with the past, haunted by the places and people they left behind.

When Irakli decides to return to Georgia, pulled back by memories of a lost wife and a decaying but still beautiful homeland, Saba and Sandro wait eagerly for news. But within weeks of his arrival, Irakli disappears, and the final message they receive from him causes a mystery to unfold before them: "I left a trail I can't erase. Do not follow it."

In a journey that will lead him to the very heart of a conflict that has marred generations and fractured his own family, Saba must retrace his father's footsteps to discover what remains of their homeland and its people. By turns savage and tender, compassionate and harrowing, Hard by a Great Forest is a powerful and ultimately hopeful novel about the individual and collective trauma of war, and the indomitable spirit of a people determined not only to survive, but to remember those who did not.

1

WHERE'S EKA

"Where's Eka?" We must have asked a thousand times.

Our mother stayed so we could escape.

See, war trumps most things. You'll find that a volley of AK‑47 rounds fired right down your street will override almost any other concern. We heard gunfire by night and saw brass twinkling on the pavement in the morning, as though it had rained shell casings all over Tbilisi. Sounds manageable so far.

But when a stray tank shell breaks the sound barrier by your bedroom window, screams on, and deletes the corner grocery shop and the entire family living above it, you'll begin to make plans. Our parents, Irakli and Eka, made plans to get us all out, divorce be damned.

Getting out of the country meant shady bribes, stolen travel stamps, and counterfeit certificates. What money the family scratched together was barely enough for one parent and us children. Eka didn't even have a passport. Together we couldn't leave the country.

Meanwhile, the civil war was warming up, bullet holes in ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!
  1. The novel Hard by a Great Forest by Leo Vardiashvili tells the gut-wrenching story of a war-torn family. Saba and his brother escaped the war in the Republic of Georgia as children. Their mother stayed behind, while their father fled with the kids to find asylum in the United Kingdom. What does the book reveal about the traumas of war? What effect does generational trauma have on Saba and his family?
  2. Years later, as a young adult, Saba goes back to Tbilisi, Georgia. While much of the city has changed, Saba feels at once a sense of belonging and displacement. How does Saba attempt to reconcile with his past when returning to his homeland?
  3. Saba searches for his father, Irakli, and his brother, Sandro, who both have vanished within weeks of ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Hard by a Great Forest deals with dark themes: war, displacement, loss and grief. But although it includes more than a few harrowing scenes, the book is also funny, touching and infused with quirky charm. Frequent allusions to fairy tales—from the Brothers Grimm to The Wizard of Oz—weave throughout the book. And indeed, with its touches of the surreal (including escaped zoo animals prowling the streets of Tbilisi) and elements that evoke a fairy tale setting (including a danger-ridden forest where fireflies glow like magical lights), the book reads a bit like a fairy tale itself, a coming-of-age story in which the hero, much like Hansel and Gretel, must undertake a journey of perils before he can make it back home—wiser and stronger...continued

Full Review Members Only (928 words)

(Reviewed by Elisabeth Herschbach).

Media Reviews

Library Journal (starred review)
Vardiashvili's amazing and poignant tale of loss and resilience draws readers in with compelling descriptions of land and place. Saba encounters horrid acts of violence or their aftermath, but he also finds beauty, even magic and mystery. A remarkable debut.

Oprah Daily
This debut novel captures both the long scars of collective trauma and the indomitable spirit of those determined to remember and survive.

The Financial Times
The stakes could barely be higher in Leo Vardiashvili's propulsive page-turner… [Vardiashvili's] sprawling narrative, part comic, part tragic, abounds in mysteries, monsters, magic and terrors. It's a spellbinding achievement.

The New York Times
Cunning and unstinting, humanist and self-aware…Evoke[s] a thorough understanding of war, escape and violence… reflecting the cyclical nature of familial death and individual reconstitution. The unstable way we return home.

The Washington Post
Vardiashvili's heartbreaking debut novel lays bare the effects that displacement can have over generations and illuminates the resilience of those who have suffered and still found their way to happiness.

Los Angeles Times
Has a commercial-fiction spring in its step.… Vardiashvili also has captured the winking, world-weary humor and magic-realist touches that mark a lot of literature from Europe's war-torn corners.

Booklist (starred review)
Heartrending, beautifully crafted...Laced with humor and insights similar to those of Gary Shteyngart and Jonathan Safran Foer, this is a sweeping, ambitious, and almost unbelievably assured debut. Exploring the long shadow of trauma cast by any war, Vardiashvili's novel pummels the reader with an emotional force that few can match.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
An unforgettable aria to a lost homeland, full of anger, sorrow, and longing.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
[A] spectacular debut...The tense plot ups the ante from one narrow escape to the next, and Vardiashvili layers his seamless blend of genres (police thriller, fairy tale quest, coming-of-age story) with lush depictions of Georgia's landscape, culture, and resilient people. This will leave readers breathless.

Author Blurb Colum McCann, National Book Award winning author of Let the Great World Spin
This novel blows open the heart of the past. It's a mystery, it's a picaresque, it's a comedy, and it's an authentic song of belonging and unbelonging. Tender and raw and funny, it's a rattling good read about the loss of home and the primacy of story-telling. By turns political and philosophical, it introduces a fine new voice in contemporary fiction.

Author Blurb Elif Batuman, Pulitzer Prize finalist and bestselling author of The Idiot
A wildly charming debut—propulsive, funny, and profound.

Author Blurb Khaled Hosseini, author of #1 New York Times bestseller The Kite Runner
This novel annihilated me. I gasped, laughed, and wept my way through it. Rich with irony and animated with astonishing humanity, this tale of a young Georgian refugee's odyssey into his birthplace to rescue family left my heart bruised and battered and aching for more.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

Civil War in the Republic of Georgia

In Leo Vardiashvili's Hard by a Great Forest, young Saba and his brother and father flee their home in Tbilisi, Georgia, when the city erupts in violence. "We heard gunfire by night and saw brass twinkling on the pavement in the mornings, as though it had rained shell casings all over Tbilisi," Saba says. "[W]hen a stray tank shell breaks the barrier by your bedroom window, screams on, and deletes the corner grocery shop and the entire family living above it, you'll begin to make plans."

Kartlis Deda statue above Tbilisi, GeorgiaStrategically located at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, Georgia's capital city has suffered bloodshed and violence at the hands of invading armies throughout its history, from the Persians to the Ottomans to the ...

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