The Mountain and the Wall

The Mountain and the Wall

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By Alisa Ganieva
Translated from the Russian by Carol Apollonio

A rumor spreads through Dagestan’s capital city, Makhachkala: the Russian government is building a wall to close off its Caucasus republics from the rest of the country. Ethnic and religious tensions mount—no one is spared from the consequences. But like a vision in the midst of this nightmare, the image of a “Mountain of Celebrations” appears, a refuge for all those who are tired of the intolerance and violence.

Publication Date: June 30, 2015

Paperback: 9781941920152
eBook: 9781941920145


"Never before has Russian literature produced such an honest and complete picture of today's Caucasus."—Kommersant Weekend (Russia)

"The Mountain and the Wall is a major event in contemporary Russian literature." —Ulrich M. Schmid, Neue Zürcher Zeitung (Germany)

This remarkable debut novel by a unique young Russian voice portrays the influence of political intolerance and religious violence in the lives of people forced to choose between evils.

The Mountain and the Wall focuses on Shamil, a young local reporter in Makhachkala, and his reactions, or lack thereof, to rumors that the Russian government is building a wall to cut off the Muslim provinces of the Caucasus from the rest of Russia. As unrest spreads and the tension builds, Shamil's life is turned upside down, and he can no longer afford to ignore the violence surrounding him.

With a fine sense for mounting catastrophe, Alisa Ganieva tells the story of the decline of a society torn apart by its inherent extremes.

Alisa Ganieva, born in 1985, grew up in Makhachkala, Dagestan. Her literary debut, the novella Salaam, Dalgat!, won the prestigious Debut Prize in 2009. Shortlisted for all of Russia's major literary awards, The Mountain and the Wall is her first novel, and has already been translated into several languages. Ganieva lives in Moscow, where she works as a journalist and literary critic.

Carol Apollonio, PhD, is a professor of Slavic and Eurasian studies at Duke University. Her most recent translations include German Sadulaev's The Maya Pill (Dalkey Archive, 2014). In addition to being an accomplished translator, Dr. Apollonio is also a scholar specializing in the works of Dostoevsky and Chekhov and on problems of translation.


“A brilliant book, and a reminder that the problem with good speculative fictions is that history has a way of proving them prophetical.” —Anthony Marra, author of A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

“It’s a really astonishing novel, a knowing and satirical account of the current situation in the North Caucasus, which is, in Alisa’s hands, a mix of medieval custom, superstition, radicalism, capitalism, bling, Sovietica and 21st-century technology: gold-hilted daggers, Lenin statues, mujahideen and leopard-skin miniskirts. My main pleasure in the book was derived from the overlapping narratives, the playfully unreliable narrator and a sense of writerly joy in style and device. Ganieva parodies epic verse, Soviet textbook, modern novel, street signage, she has long and fertile dream sequences and parallel realities, she skips back and forth in time…It’s a liberating joyful read, despite the grim subject matter. Alisa is a clever and clear-eyed writer with a strong sense of literary purpose and I can’t wait to read her next book.” —Sasha Dugdale

“One of those novels that reminds us why reading world literature can be so compelling. . . . masterfully blends the ingredients of a society being torn apart by ideologies with all the little details that make the nonnative reader feel as if he or she has tasted the local cuisine from a family kitchen rather than a concept gastropub. It is a mass disaster novel as viewed through the eyes of young adults who mostly just want the freedom to dance, listen to music, and engage in courtship behavior, however clumsy.” —Rob Vollmar, World Literature Today (Editor’s Pick)

“Ganieva’s writing has a kind of magic. . . . The way that the story is told is sort of stream of consciousness, which inserts the reader into the pulse of the action, confronting the fears and frustrations of the people in Dagestan.” —Lauren Smart, Dallas Observer (“10 Books To Read this Fall”)

“The arrival into English of a Dagestani novel is an event with little precedent and as such should be welcomed. . . . An ambitious and informative book.” —Natasha Randall, The Times Literary Supplement (TLS)

“The Mountain and the Wall is a compelling read that masterfully intertwines the politics of the contemporary Caucasus with an all-too-realistic dystopian future. More importantly, the wide release of this work makes Dagestan, in particular, and the Caucasus, in general, more visible to the rest of the world. It takes a snapshot of the complicated political, religious, and cultural landscape that, sadly, very few have taken the time to understand.” —Patrick Hall, International Policy Digest

“Never before has Russian literature produced such an honest and complete picture of today’s Caucasus.” Kommersant Weekend

“Religious extremism and the ever shifting politics of the former Soviet Union form the pulsing backdrop of this smart and daring debut novel. Though it is the first book set in the region of Dagestan to published in English and the events depicted are foreign to the American experience, at its heart, Ganieva’s compelling story is a universal one of a young man trying to make sense of this crazy world, while making money, sustaining friendships, protecting his family, and falling in love.” —Josh Cook, Porter Square Books

“The land, seen in its beauty and the depths of the past, is the beating heart of Ganieva’s novel. Troubles may not be overcome, but they might be survived, and that love and the resiliency of a community ever malleable is the path to it. The Mountain and the Wall asks us to love and understand Dagestan, and the ask is compelling.” —P.T. Smith, Full-Stop

“Passionate and stylistically accomplished . . . Ganieva vividly portrays the disrupted patterns of contemporary life, the disjuncture between the rational, modern world and the primitive extremism that threatens it. She harnesses the tropes of apocalyptic fiction: mobile phone blackouts, boarded-up airports, anarchy, the rise of cults, just as Emily St. John Mandel does in the recent bestseller Station Eleven. Like Mandel, Ganieva is less interested in the mechanics of the doomsday scenario than its social and psychological repercussions.” —Phoebe Taplin, Russia Beyond the Headlines

“Complex in a nineteenth-century, great-multi-plot-Russian-novel way, especially in the religious and political fervor of the distinctly Dostoevskian crowd scenes that fuel the action; it’s compelling in its topical exploration of Islamic fundamentalism and annexation by or expulsion from the Russia Federation, depending on that nation’s shifting whims, e.g. Crimea and Ukraine these last two years.” —Genevieve Arlie, M—Dash

“Chapters filled with a babbling stream of consciousness form an ethnographic tour de force, and cover a wealth of rich local history, mixed in with traditional customs and their intersection with modern life of the 31 ethnic groups of Dagestan.” —Robert Chenciner, Open Democracy

“The Mountain and the Wall is a major event in contemporary Russian literature.” —Ulrich M. Schmid, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

“Ganieva skilfully uses words from some of the 30-odd local languages and fragments of poems, fables, dreams and diaries to evoke this diverse republic sandwiched between war-torn Chechnya and the Caspian Sea.” —Phoebe Taplin, The Guardian


The most widespread and effective news medium was word of mouth. Rumors flew, mutating as they went, communicating mysterious tidings about mad cows in Botlikh, or apricots in Gergebil that all had suddenly withered and died, about an uprising in Mamedkala and Magarmkent, and about a counterattack by the mujahideen, who’d routed separatist Southern Dagestan.

“We have no nations, we have Allah!” proclaimed the chorus of voices on TV. “Chechens and Kabardins, Balkhars and Ingushes, Karachaves and Dagestanis will forget all borders, renounce their individual pre-Islamic dzhakhil customs, and rise up as one united Islamic front under the banner of tawhid!”

But other rumors circulated as well—about forces that were rallying in the mountains around the Tariqat sheiks, about a covert plot against the Salafi government, about nationalist fronts preparing a surprise attack, and even about a new movement of militant atheists with a mixed program, not liberal exactly, but not communist either.

The people wandering the streets of the capital would occasionally stumble upon the city’s own decaying flesh. Water seethed up from under the manhole covers; electric wires arched and frayed, flared up and then went dead. Old women scurried around the streets, hunched under propane tanks, and people searching for food hastened to stand guard at the doorways of depleted stores that stood forlorn, devoid of their stocks.

Biographical Note

Alisa Ganieva, born in 1985, grew up in Makhachkala, the capital of Dagestan, and currently lives in Moscow. Her literary debut, the novella Salaam, Dalgat!, published under a male pseudonym, provoked contradictory reactions in Russia: astonishment, especially among young Russians, at this unknown part of their country; and anger among radical Islamists at this negative portrayal of their homeland by one of their own. Salaam, Dalgat! won the prestigious Debut Prize in 2009, and Ganieva revealed her true identity only at the award ceremony. Ganieva works as a journalist and literary critic. The Mountain and the Wall is her first novel, shortlisted for all three of Russia's major literary awards, and has already been translated into several languages.

 Dr. Carol Apollonio is Professor of Slavic & Eurasian Studies at Duke University. Her most recent translations include German Sadulaev's The Maya Pill (Dalkey Archive, 2014) and new versions of Chekhov stories. In addition to being an accomplished translator, Dr. Apollonio is also one of the world’s foremost scholars on both Fyodor Dostoevsky and Anton Chekhov. She was awarded the Russian Ministry of Cultures prestigious Chekhov Medal in 2011 for her contribution to the study of Anton Chekhov’s literature.