Monday, March 1, 2021

Review: Days in the Caucasus

Days in the Caucasus Days in the Caucasus by Banine
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Umm-El-Banine Assadoulaeff was a French writer of Azeri descent - a granddaughter of two famous Azeri millionaire Musa Nagiyev and Shamsi Assadullaev, a daughter of Azerbaijani businessman and politician Mirza Asadullayev. This is her memoir of her childhood in Azerbaijan, in the early decades of the 20th century. Fascinating stuff, and an interesting way to look at some of the history of a region I know very little about.

I'm also interested in the translation history - Banine wrote this in French and published it in Paris in 1945. And guess who "blurbed" or reviewed it - Teffi! If you loved Teffi, you will probably enjoy this. It was only translated into the English much more recently, and was published in the UK in 2019 and only March 2021 in the United States.

From a 21st century perspective, there are some unsurprising problematic elements, from fatphobia to transphobia, anti-Christian and anti-western sentiments, jokes about the Armenian genocide (and a bit of apologist defense since the Azeri view is that the Armenians killed a bunch of Azeris....) The depiction of Islamic practice may also be seen by some to be insulting - Banine converted to Christianity before publishing this book, and she is very critical of her family's observances (or lack there of, or ways they wiggled around the rules.) Still I found it interesting to see a child's eye view of Islam in a very wealthy but not too conservative country.

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