This past November, I got to attend a lecture by the Russian author Alisa Ganieva. After reading her novel The Mountain and the Wall and excerpts from The Bride and the Bridegroom, I was particularly interested in both her perspective as a writer from the little-known region of Dagestan and as a Muslim woman.
The Republic of Dagestan is a federal republic of Russia in the Northern Caucasus region. With a population of under three million people, it’s a predominantly Muslim territory. In The Mountain and the Wall, Ganieva creates a quasi-apocalyptic yet not unimaginable future in which Dagestan is cut off from the rest of Russia. As the Dagestani people in general are oppressed by the larger Russian government, the women within Dagestan seemed to be oppressed by Islam. They are simultaneously rewarded and condemned for conservative and provocative behavior, showing that the men use religion as a means to control the female characters.
In her own literary career, Ganieva struggled to write as a woman. She initially submitted her first novella into a writing competition under a male pseudonym, and, so relatable was the male protagonist, readers assumed the work was largely autobiographical. When she won the award and subsequently mounted the stage to accept it, the audience was stunned. In Ganieva’s own words, “They were expecting some brutal, unshaven guy from the mountains.”
I really enjoyed getting to hear Ganieva speak, especially since I had just read one of her books. It was also interesting to interact with someone from Russia; given the recent political turmoil between America and Russia, it’s easy to forget that it’s a massive country with normal, productive citizens who have nothing to do with the corrupt government. Ganieva was bright and personable, and she offered me a completely new perspective on Russia.