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The Mountain and the Wall

3.48  ·  Rating details ·  199 ratings  ·  40 reviews
"Never before has Russian literature produced such an honest and complete picture of today's Caucasus."—Kommersant Weekend (Russia)

"The Mountain and the Wall is a major event in contemporary Russian literature."—Ulrich M. Schmid, Neue Zürcher Zeitung (Germany)

This remarkable debut novel by a unique young Russian voice portrays the influence of political intolerance and rel
Paperback, 264 pages
Published June 30th 2015 by Deep Vellum Publishing (first published January 1st 2012)
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The recently-translated Islamic-fundamentalist-takeover-dystopia novel that isn't Houellebecq. And whose characters are rather less jaundiced.
In a near-future Dagestan, there are rumours that Putin's Russia has had enough of dealing with trouble from the Caucasus country and has just put a wall up across the border - like the Berlin Wall, as a couple of characters say - and it proves to be true. Extremist Salafi / Wahhabi insurgents, already present in fairly significant numbers, see a power va
Ronald Morton
Sep 12, 2016 rated it really liked it
Let me make a quick note for anyone who is considering reading this book: there is a Glossary at the back. I only found it as I finished the book, and had spent the majority of the novel just context-clue-ing unfamiliar terms, and it would have been helpful to know up front. So, there you go: you're welcome.

I'll admit, geography - especially Eastern European geography - is not a strong point for me. So, I think I might have been aware that a county named Degestan existed prior to starting this n
unexpected and priceless find, courtesy of fem_books on livejournal.

alisa ganieva is a young moscow-born daghestan writer; her first short story, salam tebe, dalgat won the debut literary prize in 2009. праздничная гора is her first longform novel, a just-a-step-ahead dystopia extrapolation on daghestan's current existence, and it was a mortifying, exhilarating, painful and wonderful read for me.

she's literally the only writer i know who effortlessly mimics the language i grew up with, russian
Aug 28, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: russia, dagestan
Knowing nothing really about Dagestan other than it's where the Boston Marathon bombers' family came from, reading this novel felt more like being dipped into an experience than following a plot. The premise is that Russia decides to separate itself from the strife and turmoil of the North Caucasian region by building a wall. A handful of intertwined characters react to this development and reveal the intricate strands making up this knotty society (roughly 34 different ethnic groups): Shamil - ...more
May 18, 2015 rated it it was amazing
A refreshing new voice in Russian literature by 2011 Iowa International Writing Program alumna Alisa Ganieva's The Mountain and the Wall, translated from the Russian by my graduate school mentor, Carol Apollonio, with a great introduction by Ronald Meyer of Columbia University's Harriman Institute.

This is a pretty damn amazing book—the first novel ever in English from the Russian republic of Dagestan, and a debut novel that offers a completely new voice in Russian literature: a woman, Muslim, fr
May 18, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: deep-vellum
The Mountain and the Wall tells the interwoven stories of a community being undone. It is set in Dagestan, but could have taken place anywhere from the former Yugoslavia to Indonesia. In part it is the story of Wahhabism arising in the vacuum left by a retreating authoritarianism and weak or corrupt quasi-democratic civil authorities. How many times did scenes in this book play out in small villages across the Middle East in the last 3 years?

It would be selling the book short if that was all tha
Nov 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
First published in 2012 Alisa Ganieva's novel is a powerful work. Taking her native Dagestan as her subject she imagines a situation in which Islamism grips the contemporary state as it is in turn physically cut off from Russia. Given the tragedy of Islamist uprisings which have torn through the region her premise is not that hard to imagine. She convincingly describes the slow encroachment of the Islamists - who bare an uncanny resemblance to ISIS which was beginning to wreak terror through Syr ...more
Dec 16, 2019 rated it did not like it
Disclaimer: I have not finished this book....
I read the introduction, prologue and first chapter (about 40 pages), and just had to stop reading. I personally did not find it engaging or relatable. Maybe I'll try again later... much, much later!
Feb 06, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read_in_russian
Firstly, this took me ages to read because of the setting. I have never touched anything Dagestani before, so all cultural references and all the vocabulary from their five million ethnic groups + Islam related terminology was lost on me. Every time a new term was used (often 3 in one Kindle page!) there was an explanation within brackets. Needless to say, I didn't exactly write these down and I don't have a perfect memory, so the next time they appeared? No idea what they meant. Tons of words w ...more
Apr 19, 2016 rated it really liked it
I think I was so leery of the whole notion of "Islamic dystopia" that I didn't relax and start enjoying the book until 2/3 of the way through. This is a strange and surprising read: catastrophe coupled with indifference and ennui; a startlingly vivid sense of local character (and all its ambivalences); a scattered, distracted sort of narrative that refuses any kind of bird's eye view and ends suddenly, unresolved. I liked it. ...more
Jan 16, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book must have been a nightmare to translate and it's probably very difficult to understand without some understanding of culture. The story is something out of nightmare as well, for all fantastical mundanity of it. ...more
Jul 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
Here is a book that had my brain cells working overtime and as I've said before epitomises the joy of reading translated fiction.
Set in a speculative future where the Republic of Dagestan is faced with the rumour of Russia building a wall across it's border civil unrest gradually begins on the streets and we view both the events on the streets and the history of Dagestan through the eyes of a young man called Shamil and the stories of other characters that he encounters through the book. The ope
Tanveer Karim
Feb 08, 2018 rated it liked it
When people outside Russia think about Russian literature, they usually think about classical Russian writers such as Dostoevsky or Tolstoy, and the stories of these writers broadly portrays the relationship between Russians -the ethnic group (русские) - with Russia. But there are very few English translations of works written by the other kind of Russians - the non-ethnic Russians, but citizens of Russia (россияне). As a result, those who do not read or understand the Russian language are left ...more
Shelley Rose
Jun 21, 2019 rated it it was ok
This book imagines an Islamist takeover of the Republic of Dagestan, seemingly inspired by what happened briefly in parts of Dagestan and Chechnya in 1999 and in an eeiry foretelling of ISIS’s establishment of a caliphate a couple yearsafter the book was published. Ganieva explores how characters from all walks of life would respond to this new reality and to rumors that Russia is building a wall to separate itself from this new Caucasian Emirate. I think for American Muslims, similar imaginings ...more
Dec 26, 2019 rated it liked it
Having read various travelogues and histories of the Caucuses in the past, I was intrigued to try this translated novel from Dagestan. The Russian empire has always had a troubled relationship with its colonized Caucasian territories, and the backdrop to this story is a rumor that Russia has built a literal wall to separate and control access to Dagestan. This creates a flurry of uncertainty and tension, as various fundamentalists attempt to seize power in the apparent vacuum. 

The subjects of th
Sep 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing
In one of Russia’s southern republics, a mountainous zone bordering the Caspian Sea, Georgia and Azerbaijan to the south and Chechnya to the west, something unsettling is afoot. Makhachkala (and presumably the rest of Dagestan) is rife with rumours that Russia is building a wall, demarcating the republic, closing its borders and pandering to its nationalist forces seeking the exclusion of the dangerous ones from the Caucuses. Makhachkala itself is in turmoil: ethnic nationalist fervour is being ...more
Marianne Braam
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Margaret Comer
Jan 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This was a fascinating look at Dagestan. I loved the depiction of a society at the intersection of contesting ideologies and power structures, hundreds of different cultures and languages, and a tension between tradition and modernity. The settings, details, and conversation painted a portrait of an extremely complex community, but one where people are living normal lives in the middle of extraordinary circumstances. I appreciated the use of so many different phrases and words from different lan ...more
Jan 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
This was a shorter book, that was paced excellently, and built tension very well. I really enjoyed the characters the author wrote, and her sense for what it's like to live in an insular community. I would recommend this book especially to anyone who enjoys Russian literature or who has any interest in the Caucasus republics. I, unfortunately, am not that familiar with the area so I had some trouble keeping up with all of the groups and their points of view and desires during the book. Otherwise ...more
Monica Rodriguez
Feb 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
I read this for a bookclub and really enjoyed it. It’s the first book ever to be translated to in English from Desgastan which I thought was a super cool. This story for me was less about a hero or character driven and more about the chaos of a country where no one knows who’s really in charge and rumors spring even more chaos. I enjoyed being the fly on the wall of this novel and felt the setting was more the hero. Desgastan is so diverse in language, history and culture. Reading about the live ...more
Yelena Furman
This is Ganieva's second major work and first novel, which is not without its flaws. Also, don't look for a female protagonist's point of view: it has a male central character and fairly cliched, secondary female ones. At the same time, she is writing about Dagestan, a heavily Muslim part of the Russian Federation, in a Russian language specific to that region. Both of these aspects are rare enough in and of themselves to warrant reading this novel. ...more
The story was fine (there are bits of fable, magical realism, dystopia) but this gives a great feel for ethnic tensions and religious extremism in the modern-day Caucasus region. This is the first Dagestani book translated into English and I read in a review that the names of characters had historical reference and meaning so I'm sure I missed some nuance. I plan to read Ganieva's second novel Bride and Groom. ...more
Nov 06, 2018 rated it liked it
An good but oppressive read. I was a little driven mad by my own need to check the glossary for word meanings - enjoyed it better when I gave up on that.
Kobe Bryant
Aug 22, 2020 rated it liked it
a lot less satiric than I expected
Aatif Rashid
Jun 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A lyrical and haunting postmodern novel about fundamentalism in Dagestan, with sharp dialogue and a wonderfully crafted mood of sorrow and uncertainty. My full review is here: ...more
Mar 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
What a promising new writer. It's a surreal yet all too real story that gradually descends to darkness without ever losing the light. Very well done. ...more
Jun 27, 2015 rated it liked it
A novel set in Dagestan, a small region of Russia in the Caucasus region, the southwest of the country, and mainly in its capital city of Makhachkala. The novel starts out when the rest of Russia builds a wall to cordon off Dagestan and essentially wipes its hands clean of the area - or, well, when it probably does. The existence of the wall and its political meaning are a source of fierce debate and rumor throughout the book, and none of the main characters ever actually see the wall with their ...more
World Literature Today
"Alisa Ganieva’s The Mountain and the Wall is one of those novels that reminds us why reading world literature can be so compelling. Set in Dagestan, Ganieva’s story masterfully blends the ingredients of a society being torn apart by ideologies with all the little details that make the nonnative reader feel as if he or she has tasted the local cuisine from a family kitchen rather than a concept gastropub." - Rob Vollmar, Book Review Editor

To read this review in its entirety, visit World Literatu
Sep 14, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction, reviews
DNF. Unless you are pretty knowledgeable about Russian history this book will be difficult to navigate. I couldn't finish, and I have no idea what was happening in the pages that I did manage to finish. I wasn't necessarily disappointed with the writing or the story itself. If I understood anything of that region's history I may have had a completely different experience. The book just wasn't for me.

I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Moira Downey
May 27, 2016 rated it really liked it
Wavering between 3 and 4 stars--probably closer to 3.5. The translation falters and becomes a bit awkward in places (either that or the writing just wasn't great to begin with), but the work as a whole is satisfying, and it's so important/fascinating to hear voices from this part of the world. ...more
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Alisa Ganieva (or Ganiyeva; Russian: Алиса Аркадьевна Ганиева) is a Russian author, writing short prose and essays. In 2009, she was awarded the Debut literary prize for her debut novel Salaam, Dalgat!, published using the pseudonym of Gulla Khirachev.

Ganieva was born in Moscow in an Avar family but moved with her family to Dagestan, where she lived in Gunib and later attended school in Makhachkal

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“«Газель» мчалась, то и дело резко притормаживая, вихляя и визжа. На поворотах водитель прикладывал руку к сердцу, чтобы его пропустили, ухитрялся на ходу здороваться за руку с проезжающими мимо коллегами и перекрикиваться с пассажирами поверх громыхающего шансона. Пассажиры то и дело просили остановить «там-здесь», «возле женщины в зеленой юбке», «где получится» и гордо не брали рубль сдачи.

Камиллу приглашали на танец двенадцать раз, после чего счёт был потерян.

Как говорится, приснилось аварцу, что его побили, на следующий день лег спать с толпой

– Расходитесь, расходитесь, хлеба больше нет! – заорал кто-то грубым басом.
Очередь заволновалась и рассыпалась.

Беспорядки продолжались. «Жжём всё, что написано слева направо!» – неожиданно сорвалось с плакатов, развешанных в Махачкале.
– Странно, – удивлялись люди, – получается, надо сжечь и сам плакат!

– Вот скажи, Махмуд, что на свете маленькое и большое одновременно?
– Не знаю, отец, – отвечаю я.
– Это Дагестан, – объяснял мне отец. – Ты только подумай, какой он маленький, а сколько в нем уживается народов и обычаев, языков и талантов, животных и растений. В одном крошечном Дагестане ты увидишь и песчаные барханы и тропические заросли, вечные ледники и минеральные источники, и засушливую равнину и сочные альпийские луга, и морскую пучину и каньоны, до дна которых не долетишь, хоть лети полдня!”
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