Are all epic novels worth their weight? Not always, but this novel is worth every page. When I came to The Eighth Life by Nino Haratischvili, it was clear that it was long, but it didn’t feel like traditional historical fiction. It was something else. This book has been reviewed as a new lens to see the turbid relationship with Russia and Georgia. Some have discussed the brilliant weaving of time and space over generations, where favorite characters move from power to poverty, innocence to experience, and navigate the twentieth century in stunning twists of fate that not only break the human spirit, but also touch something personal. The “Red Century” as the books refers to the time frame has become concepts and vision that we only understand in terms of socialism, fascism, and communism. But this book makes these terrible and complicated social and historical elements and turns them into personal, emotional, and sometimes terribly tragic moments in a vast timeline. In an interview with the New York Times (April 2020), Haratischvili, “who writes in German, has said her book is personal rather than autobiographical.” And the book does one important thing — it shows how devastating it is to live in a social experiment that was constantly breaking off the rails.
The one thing that no one has really discussed in other reviews is that this is a story told from the vantage of women. There are men in the narrative and we see them clearly, but this novel is significant, personal and vivid because it is framed through the vision of the women of Georgia and Russia. The story line follows the most important characters as they evolve and shift through the generations. Not only does the story create a sense of idealism at the beginning but masterfully shows the interwoven stories, history, and vision of a family. This is a personal story, one filled with curses, breath-taking beauty, betrayal, war, addiction, faith, and loss. It feels like we are in an epic struggle with intimacy, with empathy, with looking at the next generation and being terrified or hopeful. It is a significant and brilliant refocus of history through the voices of women who endured the violence, the change, and the constant uncertainty of family, love and loss.
This book feels epic and long because it covers a vast amount of time. Every time I picked up the novel, I was quickly immersed back into the story of family fates. Haratischvili needs to bring intimacy and personal vision to her prose, but she also has to capture the big picture, the epic visions of what history was doing to this family and how they chose to move forward. The prose style isn’t a lesson in history and historical details of what it felt like. It is a different, personal narrative that feels modern, but doesn’t get bogged down in historical notes and ideas. Those changes in history are inherent in the characters as they navigate their lives, their desires, and their hopes to carry on. The writing style creates a devastating accumulating effect.
This book is highly recommended, not because we need another long novel about Russia, but we need a great novel about the life of women in Georgia woven over a century. You will not only long for these characters after the book, but you will long (with them) for a different time and fall into the dream like vision of history, place, love, and hope from these stunningly powerful women. This is a long novel, but time brilliant spent with such a vivid and beautiful story of one hundred years.