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Hard by a Great Forest

Hard by a Great Forest by Leo Vardiashvili

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By Leo Vardiashvili

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7 reviews

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Tbilisi’s littered with memories that await me like landmines. The dearly departed voices I silenced long ago have come back without my permission. The situation calls for someone with a plan. I didn’t even bring toothpaste.

Saba’s father is missing, and the trail leads back to Tbilisi, Georgia.

It’s been two decades since Irakli fled his war-torn homeland with two young sons, now grown men. Two decades since he saw their mother, who stayed so they could escape. At long last, Tbilisi has lured him home. But when Irakli’s phone calls stop, a mystery begins…

Arriving in the city as escaped zoo animals prowl the streets, Saba picks up the trail of clues: strange graffiti, bewildering messages transmitted through the radio, pages from his father’s unpublished manuscript scattered like breadcrumbs. As the voices of those left behind pull at the edges of his world, Saba will discover that all roads lead back to the past, and to secrets swallowed up by the great forests of Georgia.

In a winding pursuit through the magic and mystery of returning to a lost homeland, Hard by a Great Forest is a rare, searching tale of home, memory and sacrifice – of one family’s mission to rescue one another, and put the past to rest.


21 Feb 2024


I have recently read a couple of other books which tackle themes of displacement, immigration and searching for cultural roots but this one held my interest more.

I think it was the multi layered approach informing the narrative that intrigued me. I felt I had one foot in reality and one in a more ephemeral world of imagination brought on by trauma and the need for help from remembered elder members of the family. The destructive inner voice of Nino is an excellent device to express Saba’s trauma, PTSD and survivors guilt from the war torn Tbilisi of his childhood. The link to Hansel and Gretel and the physical setting of the forests and rivers added tension and foreboding to the narrative. I really enjoyed the idea of following his brother’s clues to find Irakli.

The characterisation of Nodar and his back story was skilfully written and a great example of the complexity of human reactions when put under unbearable pressure. Nuanced and honest. I was moved by the discovery of Natia, which shone a light on the many forgotten, orphaned children of war torn countries.

I would have liked to have found out what happened to Saba and Natia in Tblisi, but maybe there are plans for a sequel?

I would recommend this poignant novel which tackles difficult global themes that are so current.

- Julie K

18 Feb 2024


Thanks go to @readingagency and @BloomsburyBooks for supplying my reading group with this amazing book. Would I have chosen it? Maybe not. Am I glad I read it? Definitely.
Returning to Georgia, as an adult, after fleeing the Civil War, as a boy, Saba followed his brothers scavenger hunt to find their missing father.
Heartbreaking, educating, horrific, funny and highlighting the importance of friendship and trust - all the emotions in one stunning debut novel. Highly recommended.

07 Feb 2024

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Such a descriptive read, following the family thread from Tbilisi to Croydon and back, characters telling a difficult story.
Over decades of turmoil, in a country they called home, an insight into how people cope with losing family, leaving them behind.
A hard read but a read to make you think!

03 Feb 2024

Vonnie T

A difficult book for me to read, although I did finish it. A very descriptive book that let me envisage the scene. I found it harrowing times and didn't want to read on but did as I knew some poor folk had to experience the very difficult times of loss and great hardship. Not a genre that appeals to me, I prefer something more uplifting.

03 Feb 2024


A tale of families caught up in war-torn Tbolisi, Georgia. Story told by Saba, who is looking for his brother and father, following clues and trying to evade the police. Memories, fairytales and folklore , and with his taxi driver Nodar's help, Saba's search for missing family members. A heart breaking , funny at times, book of families dealing with sadness and memories. Unusual book well worth a read.
LG Ruby Reaers

02 Feb 2024


Took me a while to get into this book with all the different characters in Sabos’ head. I’m so glad I did though.
Beautifully written, the scene setting was so descriptive you are caught in the atmosphere.
Feeling the cruelty and vindictiveness of war and the sheer will to survive.
How can it be that a few men can inflict horrors that destroy the lives of people for decades and beyond.
There’s humour here too, I liked Nodar good at heart but driven to sell his soul.
I will always remember the Georgian saying “ a visitor is a gift from god”

02 Feb 2024


Part comedy, part tragedy. Broken spirits, damaged lives, ancient ghosts, wise words and easy humour. What an interesting book. The lead character's quest was unusual and engaging and I found his journey both uplifting and heartbreaking. I wanted Saba to succeed and willed him on at every stage as he negotiated his broken homeland.
The author's descriptions of Georgia, Georgians and their history was fascinating and the irrepressible humour and generosity of it's brutalised people shone through even in the darkest of times.

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