Ames phenomenon leads to author event
A 944-page book titled “The Eighth Life (For Brilka)” has seen phenomenal success at Dog-Eared Books, an independent bookstore in downtown Ames.
It’s selling at a rate of about 100:1 compared to similar bookstores, and the success has led to an in-store event at 11 a.m. Sunday, which will include a Zoom discussion with the author, Nino Haratischvili, and the translators, Ruth Martin and Charlotte Collins.
“It’s been a beautiful thing — just finding that book and how ridiculously it’s spread with people in Ames,” said Peter Haleas, a bookseller at Dog-Eared, who first started recommending the book to customers. “It’s a book about Georgian history — the country of Georgia — so for it to really sprout in Ames instead of any other place is really beautiful. It’s made me really excited to come in here and talk about the book with people and hear their comments.”
The event will include the Zoom discussion with the author and translators as well as a discussion of the book with other readers. Dog-Eared Books has teamed up with two other Ames businesses, Chocolaterie Stam and Windmill Coffee Co. Customers will be able to buy “Nino’s Favorite Chocolates” and “Jashi” coffee, which are inspired by the book’s Jashi family and their secret chocolate recipe carried through generations.
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Haratischvili selected the four chocolates: dark chocolate mocha ganache, white chocolate praline with hazelnuts, milk chocolate marzipan and milk chocolate truffle. “Jashi Coffee” will be a specialty mocha created by Windmill Coffee Co.
“We’re going to be Zooming 3,963 miles across the world with the author in Tbilisi, Georgia,” Haleas said. “And we’ll be sprouting off into the UK with the translators as well, from right here on Main Street in Ames, Iowa.”
Although Haratischvili does speak English, the translators are being included in the event because they were instrumental to the success of the book in English, Haleas said.
How ‘The Eighth Life’ became an Ames phenomenon
Dog-Eared co-owner Amanda Lepper said the store probably wouldn’t even carry “The Eighth Life” if it weren’t for Haleas.
“I think that’s what makes independent bookstores so fantastic,” she said. “Our curation — the books we have on the shelves — were picked by people who love reading and have really great taste. Peter is a very passionate reader, and we bring in books that our booksellers are really passionate about.”
She said she’s seen “The Eighth Life” in just one other bookstore. On Friday, the book was No. 121,698 in books on Amazon, but it was the No. 2 bestseller at Dog-Eared, where it was edged out only by national bestseller, “The Midnight Library.”
“The national bestseller is selling hot everywhere,” Dog-Eared co-owner Ellyn Grimm said. “The sales that are happening here for ‘The Eighth Life’ are unique to here because of Peter bringing it in and talking to people about it and getting them excited about it.”
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“The Eighth Life” was translated from Georgian by two translators, Martin and Collins.
According to Lepper, just 2% of the books available in English have been translated from other languages. “So we’re missing out on the stories of the world. This is a unique story out of Georgia,” she said. “It shows culture. It shows history. It shows environment. It’s just a totally different perspective, which aligns with what we’re trying to do as a bookstore — take people out of their own experiences and make people more empathetic with bigger eyes for the world.”
Haleas first read about “The Eighth Life” in the Economist magazine. The book was translated and published in Great Britain eight months before it published in the United States.
“We have about 11,000 titles in the store, so what is it that makes ‘The Eighth Life’ connect with people so much?” Haleas asked. “I think for Ames, it’s such a foreign and singular story, because what other Georgian stories are we going to encounter?
“And I think stories about freedom, oppression and being able to follow your dream — that is something that anyone in Ames can feel.”
Emily Golden, one of the readers of “The Eighth Life,” said the epic novel was a revelation to read.
“Epic and yet intimate, steeped in fantastical family lore and yet relatable,” she wrote in comments about the book. “Reading the story felt like being whispered a secret. There’s a strange urgency in Niza’s story as she struggles to tell her niece who the Jashi family is and where they came from, and that urgency propelled me through the story with hardly a break.”
Weighing in at almost 2 1/2 pounds, the paperback looks daunting, but readers are finding it “so readable,” Lepper said. “People are just burning through it.”
Haleas offers the book as extra credit in the English 250 class he teaches at Iowa State. “One of my students read it in six days,” he said.