In highly patriarchal societies such as Georgia, women are left with little room to challenge the roles assigned to them, but these writers are taking a stand - including in almost entirely male environments like war.
Armed conflict and sacrifice are centre to Topuria’s work, but, unlike Melashvili’s Counting Out, her war has a name and a specific location.
“I write about Abkhazia, and that’s how war comes in my writing,” she explains.
Hailing from the lush Black Sea region, Topuria left her native city of Sukhumi for Tbilisi with her family a few years before the conflict broke out between Abkhazians and Georgians - she was 14 and never returned.
“We could not visit anymore,” she sighs. “Abkhazia is my childhood, that’s why I write about it. I tried to focus on something else, but I always end up coming back to it.”
Her stories often focus on children, both during wartime or just after the conflict. Her style draws on Georgia’s rich folk tradition and brings elements of mysticism - her short story Home is set in an occupied house in Sokhumi and it explores how its former owners, who fled the house and could never return, haunt those who moved in after the conflict.
Living in Tbilisi during the civil war, Topuria saw dead bodies lying in the streets but she soon stopped being affected by them - like many other Georgians, she developed a coping mechanism to survive those years. This powerful, direct experience is key for her writing, she notes.
Topuria adds that it makes her books about war fundamentally different than those by any other writer, especially Georgian male writers. She notes that she could not go into detail describing different types of weapons, like well-known author Beka Kurkhuli does.
“If I say that I am deeply traumatized by the wars I have witnessed, that would be a lie. I think one has to first get over a trauma and only after that write about it. There must be some emotional distance between the writer and his or her text.”
Known mainly for her children’s books, Topuria often visits schools and believes that adults need to be careful about how books describe war.
“Reading and imagining horrible things can be no less traumatic than experiencing them directly,” she notes. In an odd way, Topuria considers the experience of the war “positive in the sense as it helps you see who you really are [in an extreme situation].”
Melashvili notes that books about war can do more than just describe violence; they can also explore deeper themes in society. Beyond the horrible trauma of war, Counting Out brings a larger message, according to Melashvili: Ketevan’s death epitomizes women’s sacrifice.
“She sacrifices herself for her brother, for the “man” because she is “a good girl.” This is how women [are asked to] live ‘You are a good girl for the benefit of someone else’.”