Cover Image: Hard by a Great Forest

Hard by a Great Forest

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Member Reviews

DNF at 48%

As a lover of historical fiction and multi generational family stories, this novel sounded perfect for me. The praise from Khaled Hosseini on the cover also adding to my excitement.

The book started off promising , and I found myself immersed in the writing and enjoying the exploration of the family history. I had high hopes for this novel, and was in hopes of having a new favourite based on the synopsis. 

However, as the story unraveled, I sadly found myself struggling. The flashback/hallucination side of the text that's constantly interwoven into the narrative, I found to read quite disjointed, and this sadly drew me away from my immersion with the story. I'm sure this choice of unique writing style is actually a very smart choice, and I would genuinely love to know how the story ends, but I found myself sadly not enjoying this choice of writing style, which therefore effected my enjoyment and immersion in the story, making me feel more distant from the characters and the story direction as a whole.

This likely might just be personal preference on the writing style based on other positive reviews that I have seen. Maybe I will revisit this in the future with a new perspective and be able to enjoy it even more.
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Leo Vardiashvili's debut novel, Hard by a Great Forest, comes with some very strong advance praise.  Sometimes this can disadvantage a novel, put too great an expectation upon it.  I was wary starting it.  A few pages in and I was already championing it to friends and family.  This novel has a great opening.

That the rest of the novel does not quite live up to that opening sounds like a major criticism.  It is not.  Not that at all.  I really enjoyed my time reading this - I learned about Georgia, its history, its culture and people whilst enjoying a great story.

Thank you to the publishers and Netgalley for the ARC.
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I don't know if I loved this read, or if I disliked it! it's a difficult book to review and revolves around the main character, Saba, He left Georgia during Soviet occupation as a young child, but returns to find his missing brother Sandro, who returned to trace their missing father Irakli. There are many references to the Grimm's brothers, with references to Hansel and Gretel. It was sad, and a difficult read, but it is a well written, emotional debut novel from the author. Thanks to Net Galley for my ARC.
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I'd like to write something more profound than Khaled Hosseini's review of this book but I'll never be that eloquent. All I can say is that it hit me the exact same way. It is funny, it is horrific, it takes your breath away, it leaves you gasping, fighting back tears.

The story follows Saba as he returns from an 18 year absence to his home country of Georgia (a place I knew nothing about before this book). Saba is following his brother, Sandro who, in turn, has gone to find their father Irakli. Saba's mother, Eka, was left behind when the family fled post-Soviet, mid civil war Georgia. Irakli's grief and guilt has taken him back to find out what happened but he has since gone missing. First one then the other son need to find him.

There's so much I'd like to say in praise of this book but I fear if I started I'd not stop and you'd get bored. Far easier for me to say this is a book that you should read. It is a book about loss, fear, war, injustice, greed, family, survivor guilt but, most of all, love. We meet some pure characters along the way - Nodar and his wife, Ketino, who lost their daughter during the bombing in Ossetia. Surik, who also loved Eka, even the ghosts in Saba's mind are fully formed.

This is an excellent novel that will make you laugh and cry in equal measure. I honestly can't praise it enough. After this debut novel I expect further great things from Leo Vardiashvili. Very highly recommended.

Thanks to Netgalley and Bloomsbury for the advance review copy (due out 18.1.24). Most appreciated.
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I’d wanted to see if this would invoke memories of the fairytales told to me during my childhood , but this was a story just too deep and disturbing. Glimpses of a shattered country by civil war for the people of Georgia. Back stories and reminiscences of, amongst others, Grimms Fairytales and the classics make a disjointed read. The front story of the search for his brother and father, with a trail of puzzles take Saba from on his journey from England to the towns and forests of Georgia. It’s certainly a mystery, but also a nightmare.

I appreciate the work that has gone into this novel, but I’m not converted to this genre. My thanks to NetGalley and the publishers for this advance copy.
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Saba came to England as a child refugee from Georgia, along with his father, Irakli, and his older brother, Sandro. They were obliged to leave Saba and Sandro’s mother, behind,  however, because she did not have a passport. The plan was for her to join them in due course but she never did.
Years later, Irakli, broken by the effort of trying and failing to earn the money to get his wife out, returns to Georgia, only to disappear completely. He is soon followed by Sandro, who meets a similar fate. At last it is Saba’s turn. But, as he wanders through a war-torn landscape following a trail of cryptic clues left by his father and brother, he finds himself hunted by police and shot at by soldiers. 
Vardiashvili’s voice is both humorous and poignant and he has an eye for the kind of detail that immediately frames a picture. Coupled with the relatively uncharted territory in which the novel is set, that voice makes this a compelling read.
I did have reservations, however. The author sometimes introduces characters , only to abandon them a little later. The plot often felt somewhat contrived. That said, his is an entertaining and often moving study of how the personal and the political can collide with devastating consequences for those caught in the crossfire.
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In the early 1990s, eight-year-old Saba flees war-torn Georgia with his brother Sandro and father Irakli. They find safety and asylum in North London, but are haunted by thoughts of what they left behind; primarily their mother, Eka, who was unable to escape with them. Decades later, Irakli returns to Tbilisi then vanishes, forcing the two brothers back to the country of their birth. Here they each try to unravel the mystery of their father's disappearance while reckoning with the past and confronting the realities of life in contemporary Georgia.

Told from Saba's perspective, the novel takes us on an elaborate chase across the country, from the traffic jams of Tbilisi to the remote mountains of Ossetia. It's fast-paced, sometimes whimsical, often absurd, and uses humour to lighten what is otherwise quite a bleak story about loss and the overwhelming devastation of war. I felt the story flagged slightly in the middle, but the final chapters definitely kept me on the edge of my seat. There isn't a classic 'big twist' but I genuinely didn't anticipate the ending, or how moving it would be. This is one for fans of eccentric side-kicks, scavenger hunts, and uncovering family secrets.
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I had been looking out for more works set in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia ever since I read "The Eighth Life (for Brilka)" by Nino Haratischvili several years ago, and was pleased to discover "Hard by a Great Forest" by Leo Vardiashvili. This debut novel has a lively, fast-moving plot and includes flashbacks which help explain the story of the main protagonist's family and the history of the region. There is plenty of action and dialogue, and a few comic scenes as well as some appallingly cruel episodes. A good read.
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"Hard by a Great Forest" by Leo Vardiashvili is a compelling work of literary fiction that delves into the human condition and the complexities of relationships. Vardiashvili's writing is thought-provoking, with well-crafted characters and an intricate narrative that keeps readers engaged. A profound and captivating read.
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Leo Vardiashvili takes his narrator back to Georgia, the country Saba left with his father and brother in 1992 when he was eight, leaving his mother behind. There had only been enough money for the three of them. Eka had insisted they leave, desperate for her sons to be safe from the civil war that engulfed the country after Soviet funding ran out. Eighteen years later, Irakli has returned followed by Sandro. Both are now missing. When Saba arrives, his passport is confiscated. Dazed and with nowhere to stay, he’s rescued by a cab driver who spots an opportunity. Nodar helps Saba navigate his way around Tbilisi as he follows the trail of clues left by his brother, haunted by the voices of his dead family and friends and pursued by a detective obsessed with avenging his own father.

Saba’s is a colourful, often funny, narrative, full of escaped zoo animals, cleverly wrought clues and a rich cultural background, but visceral at times. Nodar’s character is particularly well done, a man bruised and angry yet managing to retain his humanity in the most difficult of circumstances. As Saba and Nodar take off on a dangerous journey which leads them over the closed border into breakaway Ossetia, the narrative takes on the pace of a thriller and the humour drops away. Vardiashvili knows how to spin a good story while laying bare the fallout of the Soviet Union and its effects on ordinary people - the horrors of civil war, the loss of family, the sacrifices made - while reminding us there will always be hope.
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Until a few weeks ago, I didn’t know this book. But when I saw the title, I got intrigued. Then I read the blurb and found out this debut has already been sold to many countries. Suddenly, this novel, full of references to Western books like Brother Grimm fairy tales, and Shakespeare, became one of my most anticipated 2024 reads.
Hard by a Great Forest is about Saba, who fled Georgia as a kid with his dad and brother while his mother stayed behind. Almost twenty years later, living in the UK, first his dad and then his brother Sandro disappeared after visiting their former home country. When Saba starts searching for his missing family members, he faces resistance.  
The title of this book is a reference to Hansel & Gretel, and the story is inspired by this fairy tale, too. The breadcrumbs, the angry witch, getting lost. During Saba’s search, Tbilisi feels like a great, dark forest; there has been flooding, wild animals from the zoo have escaped, and people are telling Saba to go back to the UK. Meanwhile, he finds a trail of mysterious snippets from his brother. At first, the story felt more like a mystery to me than a story about returning to your roots, but while reading, I recognized more and more layers Leo Vardiashvili built into Saba’s story. The voices in the back of his head of long-lost family members and friends. The numerous flashbacks with the tenderness of reading Brother Grimm's stories and the harshness of gunfires killing kids. His uncle who cured Saba’s fear of swimming by taking him fishing, but also the guilt Saba carried with him. His family home always pulling at him without realizing it. 
I find it hard to rate Hard by a Great Forest. Sometimes I loved this sad, tender, and almost comical novel, and I felt knots forming in my stomach or goosebumps spring on my skin. But at other times, I felt kind of lost? I think it didn’t wholly consume me. Intellectually, I understood its meaning, but somehow, I wanted to feel more, and it took me a long time to get through the first chapters. But after finishing it, the story is still tugging at me, and it’s a book I’ll never forget. So, I think I will round my rating up to four stars for now, but I might change it in the future.
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this is such a heart wrenching story of two boys and their father who had to move to the uk and leave their mother behind them .So so sad but beautifully written ,one to stay with you for a long time .
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