Stories I Stole

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Grove Press, Feb 1, 2004 - Biography & Autobiography - 288 pages
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Fed up with working for Time magazine in London, Steavenson moved to Georgia on a whim. Stories I Stole relates her time there in twenty vodka-fuelled episodes drawn from all over the country - tales of love, friendship and power cuts, of duelling (Georgian style), of horse races in the mountains, wars and refugees, broken hearts, fixed elections, drinking sessions and a room containing a thousand roses.Stories I Stole is a wonderful example of a writer tackling an unconventional subject with such wit, humanity and sheer literary verve that one is unable to imagine why one never learnt more about Georgia before. Stories I Stole is a magnificent first book: erudite, engaged, candid and blissfully poetic. PROLOGUE: The author visits a bizarre "Stalin theme park" culminating in the eery viewing of Stalin''s death maskSHASHLIK, TAMADA, SUPRAThe author visits Khaketi, where she is introduced to the tamada culture of "exaggerated hospitality; a point-of-honour hospitality." During a marathon toasting session at dinner she realizes "It is a kind of aggression. When they did not know you well, they filled your glass and filled it again and carefully watched how you drank it... This was the Georgian way, friend or enemy with nothing in between. History was lost in tradition, drinking a way of remembering and forgetting at the same time."SHUKIThe frustration of living with unpredictable power and water supplies during extremely cold winters; the heat and/or electricity isoften turned off due to reasons ranging from sabotage, corruption, non-payment, theft, "black clan economics," and incompetence. Nevertheless this leads to a particular happiness when the light does come on. The author discovers the heavenly comfort of public baths. "Times were difficult; people had very little money. A lot of men were unemployedand all the old good professional jobs, teachers, nurses, police, engineers, were state jobs and paid less than $50 a month... Half Tbilisi owed the other half money."ETHNIC CLEANSINGThe author visits Abkhazia, where a refugee has asked her to find the apartment that war caused him to flee. She finds a woman living there who is a refugee herself--after her own house was burned down, she discovered the fully furnished house in Abkhazia shortly after it was vacated, and has been living there ever since, proudly tending the garden of the previous occupant.WHO ARE THE ABKHAZOn the beach with Shalva, whom she suspects is "Abkhaz KGB." He feeds her the party line about the Abkhaz occupation and she feels like screaming truths at him. "You won the war. You threw out all the Georgians. You have your homeland to yourselves (apart from the Armenian villages and the pockets of Russians) and what is this place? It''s a black hole. There are barely any cars, barely any petrol, no factories, nothing works, no private businesses, a curfew, no salaries, barely any pensions, a shell of a university, a terrible hospital, etc. etc." But Shalva doubtsthat the West is paradise: "Here we have everything we need. The land is fertile."THE DUELThe story of Dato and Aleko--they get into a car wreck and Dato''s face is horribly scarred. Aleko steals Dato''s wife and Dato challenges him to a fight. When Aleko beats Dato up, Dato pulls a gun and shoots the man until he is almost paralyzed. Dato, meanwhile, lives the rest of his life with his mother, hooked on heroin. "Not really Pushkin is it?"LARGE ABANDONED OBJECTSThe author drives to Abkhaziawith several journalists to see incumbent Ardzinba win the presidential election (the journalists rename it the "presidential farce," since Ardzinba is the only one running. The author marvels over the abandoned relics of the USSR she sees along the roadside--rusting tractors, bits of pipline, lines of coal cars shunted and left along a rail line, etc. For her birthday, the author goes to Gorbachev''s dacha, a palatial house he built but never got to inhabit because of the collapse of the Soviet Union. The house is a metaphor for the USSR: "impressive only for its sheer size but actually full of empty space and tat."
 

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Stories I stole from Georgia

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Steavenson, a former journalist for Time magazine, left London to satisfy an inexplicable curiosity about Georgia by living in Tbilisi for two years. From that experience comes this captivating mix ... Read full review

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Contents

Prologue
Shashlik Tamada Supra
Shuki
7
Zalikos Theory
25
Ethnic Cleansing
46
Who are the Abkhaz?
52
The Duel
63
Rustavi
84
Ali and Nino
156
Election
168
Giorgi
182
Minefields
192
11th August
203
Pankisi
217
Roses
238
Afterword
243

Large Abandoned Objects
89
Khevsureti
102
On the Chechen Border
106
Aslan of Adjara
138
Istanbul Cairo
146
Ethnic Glossary
247
Bibliography
262
Acknowledgments
272
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