Antonomasia's Reviews > Bride and Groom

Bride and Groom by Alisa Ganieva
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really liked it
bookshelves: central-asia, women-in-translation, russia, decade-2010s, 2018, btba

I had a great time reading Alisa Ganieva's The Mountain and the Wall around Christmas 2015, and so this December I jumped at the chance to read the second of her books to be translated to English. After reading both books, I'm impressed by her genre-hopping skill, each time firmly within a literary mode; the earlier book was dystopian speculative fiction; this is a romance. (Literary romance is not something you see a lot of these days - or maybe the plotlines of the American and British ones I see don't appeal so I don't really think of them that way, just as blah novels about twentysomethings in Brooklyn or wherever.) Both of her books share a recognisable authorial voice, and are packed with details about both modern and traditional life in Dagestan, an area rarely covered in Western English news - which is what I find so fascinating about them - and also know how to create the kind of mood and suspense associated with their respective genres. Introducing tension into the story of a couple whom the reader knows from the start will get together, and making this felt by a reader who would very rarely pick up a romance novel is, IMO, an achievement. How it would seem, though, to regular readers of romance, I can't say.

Most of the novel is set in a community where arranged marriages are the norm, while its hero and heroine Marat and Patya - young Dagestanis who work in Moscow law and have been summoned home by their respective parents for matchmaking - both have a more secular, liberal outlook than others around them, without being outright rebellious. The general process, aside from specific Dagestani customs, will presumably be familiar to people from cultures where arranged marriages are prevalent. A motif of a veiled bride impersonating another, meaning the groom did not marry his intended, also in Orhan Pamuk's A Strangeness in my Mind, occurs in an anecdote told by one relative - I am not sure how common this kind of story or legend is and what that might signify about the originality versus folkloric basis of the novel to someone who knows the culture better. From a Westernised viewpoint the book makes an interesting juxtaposition of attitudes found in novels from very different eras - a contrast the main characters' experience too in living between different worlds and finding ways to fit partly into both. There is work in the legal profession in Moscow, the struggle with discrimination (his long search for a private apartment in Moscow—his non-Russian name had scared off all the landlords) and at the end of a long train journey, there are people like Granny:
the world in which she dwelt had absolutely nothing in common with ours. In her world people still lived in mountaintop castles with flat roofs, divided up the fields and the harvest strictly according to ancient rules, and sent their sons to the villages of conquered neighbors to feast at their expense; after murders they demanded a vow of purging from forty men and exacted fines measured in units of grain, copper kettles, bulls, and sheep. These reminiscences descended into some infinite depth of the ages, and it was impossible to believe that she had ever personally been a part of that strange life
and the less picturesque hometown:
A sudden gust of wind hurled a cloud of steppe dust at us, along with shreds of cardboard boxes that looked like dry crackers, a faint, simple melody from a distant tape player, and the dreary sound of cows mooing.
(Talking of cows, their sound is once transliterated as “Um-bu-u-u-u!” - which sounds so much more like the real thing than the English 'moo'.)
some steppe village surrounded by abandoned oil towers, or a roadside motel with scorpions rustling within its pitted, sunbaked adobe walls.

I've unfortunately only read one other novel focused in a relatively positive way on arranged marriages in a Muslim country, the chick lit-style Tender Hooks aka Duty Free by Moni Mohsin, which, although it contains a lot more about political events than British chicklit would, doesn’t consider issues with the same level of seriousness as Bride and Groom. As in The Mountain and the Wall, the growth of stricter forms of Islam is a significant part of the background - there are tensions in the characters' small home town between a traditional mosque and the newer Wahhabi mosque "on the other side of the tracks" - as is political and legal corruption, both in Moscow and Dagestan. (In a discussion thread about 2018 London novel In Our Mad & Furious City it was pointed out that very few contemporary British and American novels manage to write about Muslims without any plotlines about radicalisation. While it is overdone in English-language literature, from what I can make out about the reality of Dagestan, it sounds as though, there, is far more genuinely prevalent and influential, and more appropriate to include.)

It is a patriarchal culture, but Ganieva indicates that there were also inspiring women in non-traditional roles.
the late Mashidat Zalova, our literature teacher. She had been six feet tall, an old maid, polyglot, and passionate bibliophile… As the daughter of an enemy of the people, she could not be allowed to work in city schools, but our out-of-the-way suburb was no problem. Rumor had it that she had been wooed by Adik’s widowed grandfather, an architect and veteran of the Great Patriotic War… persistent in his attempts but she had foresworn family life and closed herself in with her dusty tomes and folios.

The Mountain and the Wall indicated the change from Soviet propaganda showing women doing work equal to men's, to more recent religious-inflected pressures, but some families in Bride and Groom value the education of intelligent daughters:
We got you into the top school, hired tutors, helped with university, and set you up with an internship. Could I even have dreamed of such a life? I worked from the age of twelve!”
at the same time as pushing them towards marriage and expecting them to take on a substantial share of household chores. One mother is a senior cardiologist - this is a world in which women like her are expected to do it all, work and housework.

The characters' frequent conversations about recently-imprisoned local bigwig and fixer Khalilbek, who is connected, spider-like, to almost everyone, may in theory be repetitive, but I thought it a realistic impression of how frequently people in a small community would talk about a recent major event. (Some authors might vary the topics more for the sake of it, even if that meant less verisimilitude). The Afterword - which I wish I'd read at the beginning, rather than when I was ¾ of the way through the book - sheds light on the religious conflicts, on Khalilbek and on recurring motifs, by explaining how Ganieva incorporated Sufism into the novel. (The connection she makes between Khidr, Musa/Moses and the Green Man is intriguing but instinctively looks to me like a stretch.) She mentions that there areallusions to Sufi poetry in the text; as I don't know these works myself I can't say how well the references come through in the English translation - but it would be very interesting to read a review of Bride and Groom by someone who has a good knowledge of these texts and of similar cultures.

Unlike The Mountain and the Wall, Bride and Groom doesn't have a glossary. In a way it could do with one - although there were benefits to looking stuff up online: watching videos of the dance the Lezginka, and seeing pictures and articles about the food (there is lots of food in this book, as you might expect from a story about weddings and visits to traditional relatives) and learning more about it, for example that adjika can be considered to be to Russians what salsa is to Americans, and that the Russian equivalent word for spicy also includes flavours such as garlic and vinegar as well as chilli (which makes more sense to me than the English). There are many details that connect regardless of notes: the almost perverse lack of glamour of modern psychics and fortune tellers; the reminiscences of grandparents with a tone familiar to anyone whose family had rural roots only a couple of generations back; parents who bicker in a way familiar from old TV shows.

Ganieva is one to read especially if you enjoy using novels for armchair tourism - in this case to an intriguing area very few people visit in person, due to long-term travel warnings.

(December 2018)
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Reading Progress

November 3, 2018 – Shelved
December 7, 2018 – Started Reading
December 22, 2018 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-3 of 3 (3 new)

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message 1: by [deleted user] (new)

Excellent review.... so detailed...hope I can get hold of it

message 2: by Antonomasia (last edited Apr 16, 2019 12:20AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Antonomasia Thanks! If you're in the US and near a good library system it should be possible to get hold of it that way. Outside the US Deep Vellum books are around but never at discount prices. The UK places that send internationally, like Wordery and Book Depository, are stocking it.

If you are interested in political novels, Ganieva's The Mountain and the Wall is good too.

message 3: by [deleted user] (new)

Many thanks...appreciate your inputs...I am in India...will explore your recommendations...thanks again

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