Days in the Caucasus was one of the memoirs I wanted to read for a long time. When I finally read it, I understood why Banine was so popular. Days in the Caucasus is one of those strange and beautiful memoirs that read like a novel. A French writer of Azerbaijani descent, Banine was the granddaughter of Azerbaijani millionaire Musa Nagiyev and the daughter of Azerbaijani businessman and politician Mirza Esedullayev. She tells a lot about her whole family and country in this book. However, this family is not one of your ordinary families.
Days in the Caucasus chronicles Banine’s rich childhood in Baku and their summer residence, before and during the Russian Revolution, and her family’s departure from Azerbaijan. She writes all her family members so pleasantly that they come to life one by one in the eyes of the reader. Banine’s family is one of the most wealthy and powerful families of its time, so Banine and her sisters grow up in wealth and abundance.
However, because they were very attached to Islam and traditions, many women were forced into marriage at a young age. Banine is one of them. At the age of 15, she is married to a man much older than her, whom she hates with every cell. But, after a while, she manages to get rid of the man she hates.
We all know families that are poor but ‘respectable’. Mine in contrast, was extremely rich but not ‘respectable’ at all.
Days in the Caucasus will be a rather inadequate book for readers who want to know what happened in Azerbaijan during the Russian Revolution because we listen to Banine’s story entirely. There are lots of love stories, family fights, runaways, naughty kids and all kinds of situations in it. So if you’re going to read the book to learn some history, I won’t recommend it. However, if you want to feel the atmosphere of that period while reading about Banine and her very interesting family, I can suggest that it offers a delightful read.
While reading Days in the Caucasus, I felt like reading a novel rather than a memoir. Banine describes her childhood so beautifully that she makes the reader experience everything from the houses they lived in to all the cruelties of childhood. This so-called very religious family has poker parties. Women see marriage as a step towards making love to others. There are racist family elders who can’t keep up with their time and a vast family that constantly fights for an inheritance, and everything flows with all the splendour of wealth. Until the revolution, of course.
With the revolution, the whole family dispersed to many countries, and they continued their lives for a while under challenging conditions. The Caucasus days of this family come to an end with the arrests, the destruction of wealth and finally, their complete flight from the country. Days in the Caucasus ends as Banine eventually travels to Paris, which she has dreamed of for years.
Days in the Caucasus is one of the books that I think will be enjoyed by all readers who love to read memoirs. However, I suggest you read the book thinking of its time, not our time, or Banine’s grandmother, and all those traditions may drive you crazy. Enjoy!
Days in the Caucasus
Days in the Caucasus: We all know families that are poor but ”respectable”. Mine, in contrast, was extremely rich but not ”respectable” at all…
Banine’s family were peasants who became millionaires overnight when oil gushed from their lands – and the course of her own life would be just as dramatic. This is her unforgettable memoir of an ‘odd, rich, exotic’ childhood, growing up in Azerbaijan in the turbulent early twentieth century, caught between east and west, tradition and modernity. She remembers her luxurious home, with endless feasts of sweets and fruit; her beloved, flaxen-haired German governess; her imperious, swearing, strict Muslim grandmother; her bickering, poker-playing, chain-smoking relatives. She recalls how the Bolsheviks came, and they lost everything. How, amid revolution and bloodshed, she fell passionately in love, only to be forced into marriage with a man she loathed – until the chance of escape arrived.
By turns gossipy and romantic, wry and moving, Days in the Caucasus is a coming of age story and a portrait of a vanished world. It shows what it means to leave the past behind, yet how it haunts us.
Umm-El-Banine Assadoulaeff (Umm El-Banu Äsâdullayeva) (18 December 1905 – 23 October 1992) was a French writer of Azerbaijani descent who wrote under the penname of Banine.
She was a granddaughter of Azerbaijani millionaire Musa Nagiyev and daughter of Azerbaijani businessman and politician Mirza Asadullayev.
Banine emigrated to France in 1923 following her father, a former minister in the government of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (December 1918-April 1920). She moved to Istanbul where she abandoned her husband whom she had been forced to marry at the age of fifteen and then fled to Paris. There, after many years, literary acquaintances, including Henry de Montherlant, Nikos Kazantzakis, and André Malraux urged her to publish. Banine dedicated her later life to introducing the history and culture of Azerbaijan to France and Europe. Her most famous writings are “Days in the Caucasus” and “Parisian days”.
Banine published several articles about the situation in Azerbaijan. She died in October 1992. Her obituary in the newspaper Le Figaro called her “one of those personages of La vie romanesque who traverse a century, attracting like a lodestone all the singular figures of their times”.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges: