A meandering look at love, culture-shock, and anecdotal history: “American Fairy Tales” by Dato Turashvili4 min read
David “Dato” Turashvili is a well-known author in Georgia, where he has published close to 20 books, though only a few have been translated into English. Of these, his most well-known is Flight from the USSR, which details the true story of the hijacking of Aeroflot Flight 6833 by a group of young Georgians in 1983. But in American Fairy Tales, originally published in 2010, Turashvili creates a semi-fictional account of his own experiences in America, a country he views as unique for having “no dividing line between fantasy and reality.”
In the summer of 2001, Turashvili was invited to the American Embassy in Tbilisi for an interview that, if successful, would see him sent to the US for 100 days as part of a literary programme. Instead of attempting to make a positive impression, Turashvili gave his honest opinion of the US, which was anything but supportive. Surprisingly, even with his lack of English skills and cynical interview, Turashvili received an invitation, and a few days later he flew to Iowa City, which is where the majority of American Fairy Tales takes place.
Turashvili’s main motivation in travelling to the US is in seeking his childhood crush Keti Charashvili, who emigrated with her mother and step-father decades prior — the literary programme is just his means of doing so. However, almost immediately after arriving in Iowa City, Turashvili meets an attractive jazz singer, Pieta Brown. Soon enough, a love triangle of sorts arises between the three, though only in Turashvili’s head as, in the end, he is never able to successfully track Keti down, even after a road trip to Texas.
When not busy with his romantic entanglements, Turashvili engages with his literary cohort, all of whom are experiencing varying levels of culture-shock. The writers making up the group are from all corners of the world, from Togo to Lithuania, and it is fascinating to see the cultural exchanges that occur as each tries to make Iowa City and the university where they are staying feel like home. There are the classic struggles with air conditioning and the creation of a sports team for bonding, as well as more personal discussions about sexual proclivities in each author’s home country.
Interspersed throughout his experiences in the present, Turashvili relates semi-historical anecdotes, many of which seem to fall in the category of tall tales rather than reality. Many are, naturally, related to the literary world, such as the story of the Irish poet Patrick O’Leary who smuggled a legendary “flying” carpet out of Georgia and who later died in the sinking of the Titanic. However, Turashvili also focuses many of his tales on exploring little known Georgian history. For example, in one chapter he relates how the revolutionary Ioseb Laghiashvili — who murdered the rector at the Tbilisi Theological Seminary, was exiled to Siberia, and escaped to Alaska — was the first Georgian to wear blue jeans.
Turashvili also spends time contemplating US-Georgian relations. Given that he did not provide a very positive opinion to the Embassy, it is intriguing to see that halfway through the novel he recognises that “if any country, including Georgia, has a real chance for independent and democratic development, then it is the United States that plays the most important role.” While he does note that European integration is important, he sees following American forms of liberalism as the only way to build a country independent from Russian and Soviet influence, a view still held by some parts of the Georgian liberal elite, who have little patience for European regulations and social welfare policies. He follows this up by noting the similarities between American and Russian imperialism, however, he claims, debatably, that Americans know how to leave the places they have conquered, while “if Russians make a conquest they never let go.”
There are few plot points in the novel. Turashvili meanders his way through the narrative, nothing ever quite coming to fruition, whether it be his quest to find Keti, his attempt to tell Pieta he loves her, or even his trip to New York, which is cancelled following 9/11. Though only around 100 pages, the novella can feel tedious in the gaps between anecdotes, and it is a slower read than the page count implies. Indeed, the most interesting aspects of the novella are the anecdotes, the majority of which may have only a grain of truth in them.
Book details: Turashvili, Dato, American Fairy Tales, translated by Lado and Giorgi Gachechiladze and Maria Kalousi, 2021, Bakur Sulakauri Publishing. Buy it here.