Georgia de Chamberet reviews Bestseller out with Dedalus Books, ahead of interviewing Beka Adamashvili & translator Tamara Japaridze for the BookBlast Podcast Bridging the Divide series.
An entertaining mocking of literary aspirations, Beka Adamashvili’s novel, Bestseller, is a rich, kaleidoscopic, polyphonic satire that looks at fame and aspirations. Georgia is little known as compared to its large Russian neighbour on the other side of the Caucasus Mountains. Its history is complex, its alphabet is unique and Georgian is allegedly based on the Aramaic spoken in the time of Jesus. Its contemporary literature is diverse, not only in terms of the authors who represent it, but also in genres and subjects and the art of storytelling.
Sarcasm, ridicule, invective or irony have been used in Western democracies for over two thousand years to expose folly, incompetence, corruption and the abuse of power by individuals, organisations, or governments.
Satire is a potent tool that takes powerful individuals down a peg or two. But in our increasingly diverse Western societies where people have widely divergent views about what constitutes right and wrong, challenging authority through freedom of expression in the arts and entertainment has become undeniably perilous and politically naive.
Parody, mockery, caricature and spoof are an acquired taste, and can tip into blasphemy, triggering anger and a violent reaction.
(The last time a case of blasphemy was brought before the British courts was in 1977, when Mary Whitehouse prosecuted Gay News for publishing a poem by James Kirkup which described the crucifixion of Christ seen through the eyes of a homosexual Roman centurion. In the wake of the Rushdie Affair, Tony Benn presented a bill to the House of Commons on 12 April 1989 to abolish the offence of blasphemy as it was widely regarded as archaic.)
To what lengths will you go, to become famous?
Beka Adamashvili’s Bestseller is a reminder of what entertaining, inoffensive satire constitutes.
“Pierre Sonnage was a writer! Maybe unknown and not even socially active, but still . . . Literary gourmets rated his ‘heavy’ creations as ‘easily digestible’ . . . though standing on the same platform with Houellebecq, Le Clézio, and Beigbeder wasn’t easy for him. Moreover, there were only a dozen readers at the presentation of his last book . . . He wholeheartedly believed that ‘society was not ready to accept and appreciate his brilliant ideas’ . . . Suicide was the only way for him to achieve eternal glory, because he knew another proven maxim too: a man had to die to gain a deathless fame.”
A blogger, screenwriter and creative director at an advertising company, Adamashvili has a mischievous sense of humor and wide-ranging knowledge of world literature, which he combines with marketing nous, to sharpen his pen. Multiple allusions from literary classics are woven into his postmodern narrative as he sends up digimodernism and the shallowness of the desire for fame. Dante, Conan Doyle, Samuel Beckett, Beka Adamashvilieorge Orwell and other literary heavyweights rebel against the author. As a maverick publishing person, I relished the way Bestseller pokes fun at literary pretentiousness, humbug and bookish aspirations.
“The earth rotated around PR and everything could be sold including me, you, him, her, it, us and them.”
Pierre jumps from the 147th floor of a building in Dubai (“the city built out of almost nothing”), and is welcomed into Literary Hell by Dante and Ceberus. He achieves what he could not in his life: his books fly off the shelves, critics pontificate and readers go wild on social media. He is deified.
Hell turns out to be a surprising place. Writers are punished in myriad ways, especially “for the clichés with which they tortured their readers”. Balzac is forbidden from drinking coffee. James Joyce writes footnotes about his own footnotes. Samuel Beckett waits endlessly for Godot to show up. Kerouac “walks and walks all day long.” Plagiarists prowl though Sherwood Forest robbing classic writers of their plots and metaphors for distribution among novices and hacks. “The narrow streets were paved with pages of books burned or torn to pieces by readers”.
Escorted to a room, Pierre finds messages left for him by a runaway stranger, including The Decanon: a parody of Elmore Leonard’s rules for writing, and he goes on to be interviewed by Big Brother. We meet Lucy — “a hipster and a retrophile” — who has a soft spot for unknown writers. She had been of the dozen readers who attended the presentation of Pierre’s last book. What Pierre’s punishment will be remains a mystery until the eleventh hour.
Goofy and clever, Bestseller is a refreshing read and a welcome distraction from these strange and disturbing times. It made me laugh out loud.
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