Waiting for the Electricity

Waiting for the Electricity, the first novel by American writer Christina Nichol, provides a glimpse of traditional culture in post-Soviet Georgia during moments of hilarious juxtaposition with modernity every time the lights come on, which is only a few hours each day. Nichol's protagonist, Slims Achmed Makashvili, and his family must plan their lives around the daily allotment of electricity their impoverished village receives, and the power becomes a metaphor for independence from the large industrialized nations and their oil interests, to whom Georgia is fatefully tied. Not since the title character of Saul Bellow's epistolary novel Herzog (1964) have I encountered one as outlandish as Slims, a working-class Georgian who writes to Hillary Clinton seeking America's help in stabilizing his country. While written in a satirical style, Waiting is heart-achingly poignant in its characters' struggles for basic human needs: electricity to heat their homes, for bathing and cooking, and gasoline for a generator and a barely operable car. Nichol, a Bay Area native who taught English in Georgia, possesses an intimate understanding of the irony and the dilemma here—a country's modest desires weighed against the relative luxury and material excess of the wealthy industrialized nations that prosper at the cost of Georgia's natural resources.