Winter Break Novel Recommendation: CREECA assistant director Sarah Linkert reviews The Mountain and the Wall by Alisa Ganieva, translated from Russian by Carol Apollonio

Looking to round out your reading list for winter break? CREECA has a “novel” recommendation just in time for the holiday season, and assistant director and outreach coordinator Sarah Linkert has reviewed The Mountain and the Wall by Alisa Ganieva, translated from Russian by Carol Apollonio.

CREECA’s novel recommendation for winter break: The Mountain and the Wall by Alisa Ganieva (translated from Russian by Carol Apollonio). Photo courtesy of Sarah Linkert.

Rumor occupies a central place in The Mountain and the Wall, the first Dagestani novel to be translated into English. Set primarily in Makhachkala, Dagestan, Ganieva’s first novel begins with the premise that Russia is walling off the republics of the North Caucasus. Phones and the internet are inoperable; media coverage is unreliable and untrustworthy. “The most widespread and effective news medium was word of mouth” (p. 185). The leading characters change, but hearsay is always present.

It is through hearsay and secondary accounts that the reader experiences the titular mountain and wall. Characters indirectly encounter “Rokhel-Meer,” the legendary Mountain of Celebrations, in dreams and in literature. Meanwhile, though much-discussed, no character actually sees the wall separating Dagestan from the rest of the Russian Federation.

Oral communication serves as a vital connection between characters and reinforces the novel’s chaotic and uncertain atmosphere. Everyone has a unique narrative to share, whether about current events, heritage, or local history. Furthermore, Ganieva artfully plays with Makhachkala’s linguistic diversity. Along with their varying perspectives, her characters distinguish themselves through language use. Apollonio handles the translation challenge well, preserving the characters’ multilingual speech and incorporating a thorough glossary encompassing Arabic, Avar, Caucasian, Kumyk, and Turkic words, among others.

Published in Russian and English in the early 2010s, The Mountain and the Wall is highly recommended for those interested in exploring modern Russian fiction and learning more about Dagestan.

Book Review by Sarah Linkert