Ana Kordzaia-Samadashvili shoots from the hip in these intimate tales of sometimes judgmental, often imperfect, but always likable women

Ana Kordzaia-Samadashvili, Me, Margarita: Stories, Trans. by Natalie Bukia-Peters, Dalkey Archive Press, 2015.

Short stories about men and women, love and hate, sex and disappointment, cynicism and hope--perhaps unique in that none of the stories reveal the time or place in they occur: the world is too small now for it to matter. A disillusioned woman, the narrator doesn't mince words about the imperfection of her life, her relationships, her prospects; yet what might in other hands seem discouraging is presented with such humor the reader can't help but feel there may yet be hope... for most of us.

Strikingly, in none of her stories does the author reveal time and place: the world is small, it could happen anywhere. Nothing is fabricated. The first-person narrator is usually an enlightened, disillusioned woman: without mincing her words she mocks the widespread pseudo-intellectuality and rediscovered religiosity of the times as well as her own unbecoming appearance, the usually under- or overestimated power of „eternal love“ and the dream of a perfect relationship that in reality is often quick to founder on the rock of impossible expectations. All this is told with such enjoyable humour that the reader cannot help but resolve to take life more lightly. -

The Georgian Margarita is becoming one of the strongest female literary figures for years. And she is, in her uncomplicated, open way, more emancipated than any feminist construct... As is thematised in one short story with the rather suitable title 'Waiting for the Barbarians,' one of Margarita's most terrible experiences is the gradual disappearance of Georgian culture as it is replaced by European and Russian standards... This thematisation makes the book an unmatched achievement that simultaneously fascinates and alienates. What does cynicism taste like? And what colour is disillusion? Me, Margarita is powder blue and tastes refreshingly bittersweet. - Emil Fadel

As translators Field and Bukia-Peters write in their introduction to this delightfully frank collection of stories, “Georgia is little known on the international scene....” Enter the gifted Georgian writer Kordzaia-Samadashvili, who shoots from the hip in these intimate tales of sometimes judgmental, often imperfect, but always likable women. In the title story, the collection’s best, the country’s tumultuous history is alluded to in terms of a beautiful gorge, controlled, in turn, by Persians, Ottomans, and Russians; the gorge was also an important site for a lineage of women, all named Margarita, whose blunt sensibilities set the tone for the collection. In “Nina,” the narrator begins by saying, “I was never a very close friend of Nina’s. I can only take so much.” She proceeds to explain all the things about Nina that drive her crazy, not least of which are Nina’s tendency to cry in public and her fear of being alone at night. In almost every one of these discursive stories, the wit and self-awareness of the narrators hints at the difficulties they’ve endured without a lick of self-pity. With great skill, Kordzaia-Samadashvili brings readers into the kitchens, bedrooms, and hearts of these coarse, forthright women.  - Publishers Weekly

Challenging, contemporary short stories with sharp feminist commentary, translated from Georgian. 
Kordzaia possesses such dexterity with tone and structure that the book’s 22 tales feel like raunchy, visceral oral history cloaked in an array of fictional forms. The collection begins with the long, somewhat confusing title story about generations of women looking back at personal and national history, giving birth, grieving husbands who’ve disappeared during wartime, by turns angry or in awe of fate. The story’s breadth frames the range of women’s voices that follow. They live in mostly urban places, usually Tblisi, in vague yet hard circumstances, surviving bad relationships, raising children with little support, often at each other’s throats just before waxing poetic about life. In “A Foreign Man,” a painting triggers memories of past love in a series of anecdotes about bygone parties and art openings with friends drinking, flirting, sleeping on balconies—a paean to the sweet taste of regret. Many stories are monologues with fine twists, equal parts comedy and pathos. The dialogue rivals Beckett (“There, In the North”) for existential hilarity, and in cooler moments, the prose is reminiscent of Jean Rhys. In “It’s Raining,” an unnamed narrator’s experience is rendered timeless as her tales of love gone wrong lead to an act of violence and a coda from a mental hospital: “I am waiting for the time when I’ll become embittered.” Dependence on men tends to lead to despair, the violence of a passionate affair akin to war, with those who’ve survived questioning their methods and self-worths. As one supposedly happy woman is asked by a depressed friend in “An Insignificant Story of a Failed Suicide,” “If I live a long and happy life, does that mean I’ll be sent straight to heaven?”
Not all gems but essential reading in a sterling translation from a country little heard from in English-speaking countries. - Kirkus Reviews

In the translators’ note at the beginning of Me, Margarita, Victoria Field and Natalie Bukia-Peters explain that the Georgian language is full of ambiguities – there are no genders, and no articles. Therefore it can be hard to tell whether a character is male or female, or whether they are referring to ‘a house’ or ‘the house’ – a small but significant detail. The stories which make up the collection are also characterised by ambiguity. We are rarely told when or where the action is taking place, and details of who is doing the telling can also be hard to come by. We see snapshots of lives, from bohemian city-dwellers to the rural poor.
Me, Margarita gives the reader an idea of Georgia’s tumultuous and contested history. Stories often involve language barriers, as characters attempt to communicate in Georgian, Russian, German and English, and streets frequently change names, frustrating anyone trying to track down people and locations from their pasts. The country has a contradictory character of its own – the landscape is bleak ('The weather was awful, the sun never rose, and, on top of that there was no electricity, just death and joylessness’), and yet it inspires a sort of magical thinking in its inhabitants: 'In this country, no matter who you ask, everyone says that everything will be alright and wishes will all come true'.
Throughout Me, Margarita, we see massive geopolitical events reflected through their impact on individuals. We see characters who have been displaced by conflicts gathering together and forming improvised communities, whether the cause is Stalin’s programme of Dekulakisation in the 1930s or the present day conflict in Chechnya. As the author explains in her introduction, 'it is clear that if it was not for the three wars after the nineties, the first and second world wars, the Soviet Union etc, we would have been entirely different'  - by focussing on the individual, she is able to provide insight into a wider process of social change.
Kordzaia-Samadashvili’s writing is phlegmatic, and occasionally vitriolic, but also retains a deadpan humour. She has the ability to create a revealing and amusing portrait of a character with a couple of well-chosen phrases, for example Vitiok, 'a typical throwback to the Soviet hippy era. He was slightly madder than was desirable and claimed to have some knowledge of Buddhism, as well as rather bold sexual demands'. Another, Stolichni, 'together with many other merits, had Latvian citizenship, a three-bedroomed flat, and not entirely groundless claims to be a genius'.
Relationships between men and women are a primary concern throughout the collection, and are generally characterised by suspicion and contempt. The women are ‘golden girls. Okay, we have stretch marks, cellulite, difficult personalities and we are horrible drunks, but so what?'. One of her characters likens love affairs to bare-knuckle boxing. The men are prone to drink, and to disappearing, and so the women tend to be resourceful. Margo, for instance, is described as being ‘a bit soft in the head’, but when she reaches a certain age, 'instead of becoming an alcoholic, or going mad, she set up an excellent business together with two other cheats', becoming a fortune teller. They also display a certain romantic fatalism: one, for example, sleeps with a tombstone of Venetian marble under her bed.
In the midst of these stories, the author has placed ‘When A Parrot Flies Over You’, a brief and rather beautiful meditation on love and sex which bemoans the fact that the civil rights movement passed Georgia by. Typically, this is sandwiched between the mordant humour of An Insignificant Story of a Failed Suicide ('never mind hanging herself, she'd never even managed to hang a picture') and the splenetic rant of A Wonderful Evening.
Me, Margarita is an idiosyncratic collection, which balances bleakness with gallows humour, whilst occasionally throwing in an offbeat essay, rant or comic observation to keep the reader on their toes. -