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Russian Speaker. By Denis Gutsko

Reviewed by Anatoly Korolyov Special to Russia Profile 04/04/2006

Resident Alien

Denis Gutsko, 36, wrote a book about his own life.

At the core of the plot is the fate of a young man born in Tbilisi in a great country named the Soviet Union, who studied in Tbilisi, served in the Soviet Army, and returned to find himself suddenly without a motherland, in a country where all Russians were enemies.

He has no Russian blood his mother is Jewish and his father Georgian but he speaks only Russian. His frightened mother tells him that he should not walk around outside, because he doesn’t look like a Georgian and may be beaten, if not killed, and downtown Tbilisi is in the hands of nationalist Zviad Gamsakhurdia’s thugs. Their mobs roam the streets chanting: “Russian occupants, out of Tbilisi!” “Georgia for Georgians!”

The panicking young man decides to go to Russia, to Rostov-on-Don. But his Soviet passport is no longer valid, he has no Russian passport, and he is not a Russian citizen, so he cannot apply for one.

Gradually, the hero’s story acquires Kafkaesque traits. He goes through bureaucratic circles of hell and nearly goes mad hiding his face from the Georgians. He escapes to Rostov, but is once again an alien because he has a strong Georgian accent.

Denis Gutsko’s story is one of a man asking repeatedly: “Who am I?”

This book is a dramatic account of one of thousands if not millions of splinters of the disintegrated empire, a confession about the loss of one’s native town, the loss of the beloved girl, about the fate of a man without a motherland.

Last year, Gutsko’s work won the Russian Booker Prize. Not a single young author had been awarded this prize before, as it usually crowns the final chapter of a literary career. In Gutsko’s case, however, the throes of being a refugee and outcast have turned the young author into a man far beyond his years.

Published by Vagrius, Moscow 2005, 350 pages


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Reviewed by Anatoly Korolyov Special to Russia Profile 04/04/2006

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