“What’s that incredible smell? Where is that smell coming from?”
The people of Wakefield followed their noses and asked me repeatedly about the special aroma that filled the West Gate Main Studio space, that IS Adjaka chicken. As they entered their feet took over and led them towards the swirls of spice laden smoke which drifted into the room through the open window.
The Adjaka Chicken sizzled and spat on the outdoor BBQ, which itself was perched on the fire escape. An outside platform of rough filigree mesh accessed only through a sash window, one of eight in the whole room, gave the illusion of a floating platform. But at a mere 3 floors up, Vako, usually more pre-occupied with telling people about his family’s winery back in Georgia, ignored the perilous drop behind him and kept turning the delicious chicken and frying the aubergines to cater for curious Wakefield folk.
It was 6.30pm and the 6 writers who had come for the writers workshop, were hunched over their boards scribbling furiously. They were not to distracted by the rumblings of hungry bellies nor the exquisite Rkatsiteli (Kakhetian) Georgian wine that was waiting for them. Clear heads were needed for this creative exercise and, as it was being led by local poet Valerie Anderson Gaskill, the creation of their companion Haiku pieces to the poem ‘Sanctuary’ from within Nino’s Song, was the main focus.
The writing kept these poets in ‘the zone’ and stopped them from hearing the growing hub-bub in the room. Performing their pieces to interested ears, the workshop participants, showed how sensitive they were to the delightful gardens described in Chapter 11 and filled the room with their own intense imagery.
Unique songs from Georgia floated from the open windows and amplified Nino’s Song. They called people up from the streets below, and as Louise Curtis Streich’s (from Hot Banana Music Shop in Holmfirth) community choir sang, more joined, and yet more. They came to learn polyphonic songs as old as the Caucasus themselves.
rang out into the evening air and the air danced as the ancient call from the mountains bought more people into this magical space. Enchanted by Nino’s Song they joined others so that soon, the spirit of the supra was upon us. Gaumojos! Gaumojos! rang out as wine made from vines generations old and fermented in the Qeveri, connected ancient memories of soil and tradition to those who drank deep the full bodied dry nectar to the streets of Wakefield.
For hours Nino waited, as she always does, for the right time to be heard. And after myself and three trusted friends, including Louise, sang Shen Khar it was Nino’s time.
Just a few poems, an extract or two from Nino’s diary and an meander through the Georgian countryside invited listeners to join her as she shared with them, her secrets, her joys and her connection with Georgia. You could have heard a pin drop. Afterwards, the whole room joined in with a rousing ‘Mrvalzamier’ (May you always be victorious in battle) and, as people stayed on to talk about her, Nino drifted, like the smoke from the dying coals of the BBQ, into her own space and waited, wisely, until her voice could be heard once again, pure, radiant and untainted by the patriarchal re-writings of history.
Nino’s journey has just begun. Within the pages of this book she lives with beauty and grace and song. Stories about her will echo through the streets of Wakefield for a very long time.
A reviewer on Amazon, David Herdson gives a wonderful insight into what the reader might experience if they choose to join Nino in her song:
The title page of Nino’s song describes it as ‘a novel’. This is wrong; it’s far harder to pigeon-hole than that and all the more interesting for it.
So if not a novel, what is it? On a purely practical level, one part of it is: the story of Nino, a teenager growing up in Tblisi during Georgia’s brief independence between 1918-21, told through her diary. That narrative, however, intertwines with Leah Cobham’s reflective-travelogue of her visit to Georgia in 2014. A third silver strand running through the book comes via her poetry, inspired by (and presumably written during), that visit.
But that’s only the practicalities. Two broader themes underlie the whole work. Firstly, how Georgia and its people – some in particular, such as a former partner, but also the nation at large – have come to form such a large part of her life, if one that she has a love-hate relationship with; and secondly, her feminism and advocacy of women’s rights.
It’s a lot to fit into a short book (under 150 pages, including several chapter-ending blanks). Does it work? Yes, in a word. Certainly it could be longer but does it need to be? Just as poetry needs to say more than simply the words on the page, so Nino’s Song succeeds in painting pictures that go beyond colour. Her travelogue sections are beautifully observed and written and her use of language is a joy to read. The insight into women struggling to make the best of a country in various states of decay was simultaneously uplifting and depressing. Perhaps the imbalance between male indifference, corruption, violence and abuse on the one hand, and female creativity, moral strength and unity was a little obvious but it was a fascinating insight all the same.
What didn’t quite hit the note for me was Nino’s diary, the parallel story of hope, love and loss in Georgia. Some aspects are again wonderfully well done (the roses!), but other comments jarred: in her first two entries – written in 1918, while World War I was still raging – the teenage girl talks seriously of visiting Vienna, for example.
Overall, this wasn’t the sort of book I’d usually read but I’m delighted that I was persuaded to. Eye-opening and thought-provoking, I hope that both the book and the people within it have a successful future.
Nino’s Song can be bought via this web-site or is available on Amazon
A huge thank you must go to the following people for helping to make the whole evening such a huge success:
Keti of Caucasian Spice Box based in Reading.
Vako of the Twins Wine Cellar based in Khakheti in Georgia
Valerie Anderson Gaskill, a local poet and writer
Diane Hall, an independent book publishing consultant
Louise Curtis Streich, a singer and owner of Hot Banana Music Shop in Wakefield
Rob Schofield, an independent film maker
Caleb Shepherd, an independent film maker