Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Azerbaijan: Solar Plexus, by Rustam Ibragimbekov

I waited quite a while for this book. While I found Kurban Said's Ali and Nino in our library catalogue, I felt that it had been published too long ago to represent modern Azerbaijan. It was published in 1937 at a time when Azerbaijan was part of Soviet Russia.

Some searching on the internet eventually turned up a reference to Rustam Ibragimbekov's novel, which turned out to be somewhat expensive, however I was able to get our library to buy it and eventually it arrived.

This book is subtitled "A Baku Saga in Four Parts". It tells the story of a group of friends who grow up in houses built around the same courtyard in a street in Baku, following them through some turbulent times in Azerbaijani history, culminating in the early days of independence in the 1990s. Each of the four sections focuses on a different member of the group. Throughout, we see them balancing self interest with their friendships, as they take various actions including betrayals to get ahead and just to survive. Baku is an ancient city and the book speaks of its culture, but also of how it is changing and becoming rough and lawless. There are glimpses of the economy which is built on oil.

The second section was the most difficult for me. This section focuses on Marat, who has stayed in his courtyard apartment when all the other inhabitants have left. Because of nearby quarrying, it is doomed to be pulled down. There are passages in italics which at first I thought were dreams, then perhaps flashbacks, and eventually I wondered if they were a mix of both.

It wasn't until the third and the fourth sections that I gradually began to understand how all the events described related to each other, and all the loose plot ends began to be tied together. By the end of the book, I felt I had enjoyed it, and been somewhat enlightened about contemporary Azerbaijan, even though I had been slightly tempted in the second section to give up (but didn't, owing to the lack of alternatives).

Rustam Ibragimbekov was born in Baku in 1939. He is an internationally award-winning screenwriter, dramatist and producer. In 1994 his film Burnt by the Sun was awarded the Grand Prix at Cannes and an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. (The narrator of the fourth section, Seidzade, is a writer of novels and screen plays, and I wondered if he was a somewhat autobiographical figure).

Solar Plexus was translated from Russian by Andrew Bromfield and published in 2014 by Glagoslav Publications.

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