A refugee father escapes from Georgia to London with his two young sons, but twenty years later, he returns to his homeland without any explanation or clues. When the older son Sandor similarly disappears, his brother Saba feels impelled to solve the mystery of his missing family. His subsequent search makes for an exhilarating, confronting, sometimes acerbically humorous story about cultural identity, the hauntings of memory, and where, if at all, people might find a home.
It's a clever, surprising take on crime fiction, featuring hordes of escaped zoo animals, sinister criminals, dead figures from the past, and Saba's pointed observations about to decrepit post-Soviet country he was forced to leave behind. In the process, he must deal with the burden of guilt and betrayal, and the loss of those he loves. In its disarming blend of pathos, political critique and comedy,
Hard by a Great Forest has echoes of Amor Towles' much-loved novel A Gentleman in Moscow. Highly recommended.
Tbilisi's littered with memories that await me like landmines. The dearly departed voices I silenced long ago have come back without my permission. The situation calls for someone with a plan. I didn't even bring toothpaste.
Saba is just a child when he flees his home in Georgia with his older brother, Sandro, and father, Irakli, for asylum in the UK after Russia's occupation of South Ossetia. Two decades later, all three men are struggling to make peace with the past, haunted by the places and people they left behind.
When Irakli decides to return to Georgia, pulled back by memories of a lost wife and a decaying but still beautiful homeland, Saba and Sandro wait eagerly for news. But within weeks of his arrival, Irakli disappears, and the final email they receive from him causes a mystery to unfold before them- 'My boys, I did something I can't undo. I need to get away from here before those people catch me. Maybe in the mountains I'll be safe. I left a trail I can't erase. Do not follow it.'
In a journey that will lead him to the very heart of a conflict that has marred generations and fractured his own family, Saba must retrace his father's footsteps to discover what remains of their homeland and its people. By turns savage and tender, compassionate and harrowing, Hard by a Great Forest is a powerful and ultimately hopeful novel about the individual and collective trauma of war, and the indomitable spirit of a people determined not only to survive, but to remember those who did not.