Givi Margvelashvili: Literature between two worlds

Givi Margvelashvili's first book was published in 1991. Photo by Nino Alavidze/

Ethnically Georgian, he writes books only in German. Author Givi Margvelashvili is a phenomenon of Georgian and German cultural life. He lived part of his life in both dictators' regimes of the 20th century – Fascism and Communism.

Goethe Institute and DVV International established an award in his name for special contribution to Georgian-German cultural relations. Today Georgian scientist, General Director of the Georgian National Museum David Lortkipanidze was awarded the Givi Margvelashvili prize.

Why is Givi Margvelashvili so important for cultural relations between Georgia and Germany?

General Director of the Georgian National Museum, Professor David Lordkipanidze awarded with the Givi Margvelashvili Prize. Photo by Georgian National Museum Press office.

Born in Germany in 1927 he was deported at the age of 19 by the Soviet KGB to his native but totally unknown land, Georgia. His father was executed in 1946 by the Soviet security service while he was detained in a Soviet concentration camp in Germany.

Givi Margvelashvili did not even know Georgian language when he arrived in Soviet Georgia.

Read’s interview with the writer who successfully enjoyed a personal and work life immersed in Georgian and German culture.

Givi Margvelashvili speaks with Tata Khutsishvili about his work and life. Photo by Nino Alavidze/ 

Q.: Mr Margvelashvili, you were born and raised in Berlin but you had to outlive both dictatorial regimes – Fascism and Communism. What was this like?

A.: Hitler with his views was a strange phenomenon for Germany. This was not a natural occurrence. What was the reason this man and his movement started there? The reason was the Soviet Union. The revolution was coming to Germany and at that time there were many Germans who wanted to protect themselves from communism.

Hitler entered policy as an outspoken nationalist. At that time many Germans were looking for salvation in him, but they were mistaken. Hitler came into power and started a terrible dictatorship.

After the case of [Ernst] Röhm people found out who Hitler really was: a politician, who kills his adversaries – and Röhm was one of them - brutally. That’s when many Germans began to realize who Hitler was in reality but it was too late. This happened in 1934. I was a little child then but years afterwards I read about it and developed an understanding of all these tragic years as a part of one story – the story of the Soviet Union.

The Soviet Union did not fall from the sky. It was based on a European way of thinking, on the theory of revolution. Its author, [Karl] Marx, was undoubtedly a great thinker but his theory is nevertheless untrue. History can really change only by evolution and not by revolution.

Nothing will come of this if you take away from one and give to another. Revolutionary proceedings will come back to all who instigated them like a boomerang. This is how my story goes.

Givi Margvelashvili was awarded Italo Svevo literature Prize in 2013 as the German language writer. Photo by Nino Alavidze/ 

Q.: You father immigrated to Germany to escape communism, right?

A.: Yes, he left in 1921 for this reason. Emigrants thought they were in Europe in a peaceful and reasonable place but it turned out to be opposite. They found themselves in the centre of recklessness, which at that time had seized political power there.

Q.: After the execution of your father in 1946, the KGB deported you to Georgia to a totally foreign environment for you where you did not know the language or anyone there.

A.: Yes, that is how I came here. First of all, the Soviet Union and everything connected to it caused fear in the emigration circles. It was believed people in the Soviet Union with different political opinions were shot and this was really so. The regime persecuted everybody who thought critically of it.

After moving to Georgia, my biggest discovery was to find out that many people here hated this regime. At home, where they were under themselves they cursed it. I liked this very much [and] I became friends with people like this.

My friends were from families where at least one person was arrested or executed. There was a great commonness on which our friendship was based and developed. So I have not been alone in Georgia.

Givi Margvelashvili with one of his books published in Germany. Photo by Nino Alavidze/ 

Q.: When did you start writing?

A.: I certainly remember that I started writing in 1961 because I received a one-room apartment in Saburtalo [a district of Tbilisi]. I was alone and I started writing there, everything began from that flat.

All normal men write poems, some kind of writings and I did it too. Here I studied German literature and found out that I had a unique experience in my life which many others did not have.

I knew what was bad in Germany and what is bad here. These two ‘bads’ are much similar and this is reason enough to think and write about it. People who were writing about these problems mostly knew only one side but I knew both.

I knew from my personal experience that there is one main harsh line in the history of these two worlds. This was most precious to me and I tried to describe this somehow artistically.

Q.: How did your life change after your first book was published?

A.: My first book was published very late, in 1991. This was my autobiographical novel Captain Vakush. The first volume was published in Konstanz in the publishing house of Suedverlag in 1991. The second volume was published in 1992 and I thought it was in the bag.

This work has seven volumes but what happened was that enough people did not read it. A book needs plenty of readers to bring income. It turned out that only the first few of my multi-volume books were published in Germany. In the book business are many hardships; everything costs money. What does not bring in money immediately goes down. That is how I lost publishers.

They thought my content was exclusive and it did not need a big promotion but everything needs to be promoted and everything needs to be shouted at. If your shouting is loud enough, then people might pay attention and read. However, there is no guarantee especially if you have a foreign surname. They think that this is something exotic and do not want to read it. This is a very big Georgian problem. We have a great history but nobody knows about it and no one seems interested.

"I am a German citizen who lives in Georgia now," says Givi Margvelashvili in his interview with Photo by Nino Alavidze/ 

Q.: Why did you return in to Berlin in 1990 after more than 40 years away?

A.: I had not decided to live in Germany then. I thought I would travel back and forth but I have health problems, I had troubled kidneys. In 1992 I underwent surgery in Germany and I had to remain under the medical supervision. It was a painful period and I thought it would be better to live there.

In 1994 I was granted German citizenship but I had to give up my Georgian citizenship. So, I am a German citizen who lives in Georgia now.

Q.: Georgia is a baptized moon, you write in your novel. Could you please explain your metaphor to our readers?

A.: This line is from the book Captain Vakush. This is a kind of game. Before Christianity a strong lunar cult existed in Georgia and baptism is one of the Sacraments of Christianity. That is why in my book Georgia is a baptized moon.

Q.: Mutsali is a Georgian novel although it is written in German. How was this novel received by German readers and why did you make a choice on Mutsali?

A.: Vazha – Pshavela is a great Georgian poet. His poem Aluda Ketelauri is a story of the Kists [sub-ethnos in south Caucasus] and Georgians. Vazha did not like confrontation between them. That is why I made my choice on Mutsali. I put a modern idea in it, for example the moment when Mutsali is being taken by force. This is my story too, my personal story that happened to me and my father.

The whole story puts classic Georgian heroes, Mutsali and Aluda, in the modern world and shows their trip to the West. It had positive reviews and people said they expected other volumes to be published as well.

"After moving to Georgia, my biggest discovery was to find out that many people here hated this regime," says writer. Photo by Nino Alavidze/ 

Q.: Mr Margvelashvili, are you planning to publish a book in Georgia?

A.: In order to publish a book here it needs to be written in Georgian but I cannot write in Georgian by myself.

Q.: Have you ever tried to write in Georgian?

A.: No. As for the translation, a good translation needs money. Will my book generate the necessary income? Nobody knows. Is it worth to translate my books into Georgian?

Q.: Are you working on a new book or new material?

A.: Yes, this novel is about racers of Formula 1. The characters of the book are hero pilots who know that they are in a book. When they reach very high speeds, a question rises whether it is their achievement or whether the book has made them successful. Of course they would like to achieve success and goals on their own. But there are also some characters who think they are real people. "What are you talking about? We are real and what we achieve comes from our own merit,” these characters believe.

The next issue is that the characters feel the novel is ending and ‘read-life’ comes to an end. How should they get used to it? Some do not believe and some know that if tomorrow’s race takes place it will be their last. Then they will disappear, they will be ‘read-out.’

Givi Margvelashvili's new novel will be published soon. Photo by Nino Alavidze/ 

"Could we come back again? Will another reader appear to get us back?” these characters ask not without fear.

And what comes next? Read-death!

This, I believe, is a very good text, perhaps the best I have written. My publisher called me and asked me to send the manuscript to him to publish it. He plans to publish it with high circulation. I am writing the last chapter of the book now and my novel will be finished this year.