Nana Ekvtimishvili, The Pear Field (2015)
Translated from the Georgian by Elizabeth Heighway (2020)
The third title in Peirene’s Closed Universe series (following Snow, Dog, Foot and Ankomst) takes us to Tbilisi, and the Residential School for Intellectually Disabled Children – known more informally as the School for Idiots, which tells you in how much esteem its inhabitants are held. In practice, the school is an all-purpose dumping ground for children who aren’t wanted by their families.
This includes our protagonist, 18-year-old Lela. She’s lived at the school for years, has been through some dark times (to say the least), and is old enough to leave – but she doesn’t know where she would go. In some ways, Lela herself is as much a closed universe as the school environment. She is driven by strong emotions, but still we see her at a certain remove.
Lela’s main project in the novel is to help a young boy named Irakli. He’s pretty much been abandoned at the school by his mother (he calls his mother periodically, and she insists she is coming back for him, but we understand differently). When an American couple express an interest in adopting a child from the school, Lela is determined that it should be Irakli. But plenty of preparation is needed if there’s to be a chance of that happening.
The Pear Field shows how insidiously the children become institutionalised, as particular ways of thinking come to the fore. It’s a quiet book, with dark tones.