Book Review: Georgia Diary: A Chronicle of War and Political Chaos in the Post-Soviet Caucasus | Thomas Goltz

This reviewer is not the first to review Goltz’s Georgia Diary: A Chronicle of War and Political Chaos in the Post-Soviet Caucasus. Most notably the Wall Street Journal lauded the book and the hardcover published by M.E Sharpe gathers teasers from a wide variety of noteworthy folks on the back cover.

However, for those new to Goltz, Georgia Diary forms the third part of a trilogy of books about the Post-Soviet Caucasus, the first two covering the bad old times in the 1990s in Chechnya and Azerbaijan. This last addition to the trilogy differs from the other two in that it is written long after the events at the heart of the book took place. In that sense, it will not be quoted in the same way in academic circles as Goltz’s earlier books were. Though some take issue with the sometimes anecdotal style of Goltz’s accounts, his work is widely cited and he often speaks to academic audiences on the topic of Azerbaijan.

Though Georgia Diary, may be quoted by fewer academics, Goltz attempts to be much more academic than he was Azerbaijan Diary. But the academic part of the book is not the book’s strongest and seems to pale in comparison to Tony Anderson’s Bread and Ashes, where the academic background makes Anderson’s trek through the high Georgian Caucasus all the more delightful.

Nevertheless, Goltz’s unforgettable fast-paced writing returns when he recounts time spent in Sukhumi before and during and after the withdrawal of Georgian troops from Abkhazia. This is Goltz at his best and his work serves to highlight for many the multiple angles of the Georgian civil war and the difficulty in writing about it clearly or classifying well from an academic perspective what exactly was going on.

For instance, the fact the supporters of the first Georgian President Gamsakhurdia were based out of Sukhumi created a complexity for those, under the banner of Eduard Shevardanadze, who were allied against Gamsakhurdia and in control of the Georgian military. While Abkhaz aligned forces were attacking Sukhumi, there was still a battle for territory in Western Georgia going on between those allied with Gamsakhurdia and those with Shevardnadze. As Goltz regales, these sides were known as the Position and the Opposition, however, which was the Position and which was Opposition appears to depend on what side you were on, and caused never ending confusion to outsiders trying to figure out what the heck was going on in a land so few in the West had ever heard of.

To someone familiar with Georgia, some of the mistakes slightly grate. The Russian use of the ploshchad instead of the Georgian moedani when Goltz claims to be speaking Georgian, the referral to Mingrelian as a dialect of Georgian rather than a separate language, or the mistranscription of the Georgian name Avtandil as Artvandil highlight Goltz’s self-proclaimed lack of familiarity with Georgia.

Nevertheless, all in all, Goltz adds yet another readable volume, to what is now his trilogy on the Caucasus.

This post is also published in the Georgian Times.