Tolstoy: The Caucasus in Russian Literary Imagination (Part IV)

Tolstoy’s Conundrum

Some of the opening paragraphs of Khadzhi-Murat traditionally set the tone for its interpretation as an anti-imperialist text.

Ia nabral bol’shoi buket raznykh tsvetov i shel domoi, kogda zametil v kanave chudnyi malinovyi, v polnom tsvetu, repei togo sorta, kotoryi u nas nazyvaetiia “tatarinom” i kotoryi staratel’no okashivaiut, a kogda on nechaianno skoshen, vykidyvaiut iz sena pokosniki, chtoby ne kolot’ na nego ruk. Mne vzdumalos’ sorvat’ etot repei i polozhit’ ego v seredinu buketa. Ja slez v kanavu i, sognav vpivshegosia v seredinu tsvetka i sladko i vialo zasnuvshego tam mokhnatogo shmelia, prinialsia sryvat’ tsvetok. No jto bylo ochen’ trudno: malo togo chto stebel’ kololsia so vsekh storon, dazhe cherez platok, kotorym ja zavernul ruku, — on byl tak strashno krepok, chto ia bilsia s nim minut piat’, po odnomu razryvaia volokna. Kogda ia, nakonets, otorval tsvetok, stebel’ uzhe byl ves’ v lokhmot’jakh, da i tsvetok uzhe ne kazalsia tak svezh i krasiv. Krome togo, on po svoei grubosti i aliapovatosti ne podkhodil k nezhnym tsvetam buketa. Ia pozhalel, chto naprasno pogubil tsvetok, kotoryi byl khorosh v svoem meste, i brosil ego. “Kakaia, odnako, energiia i sila zhizni, — podumal ia, vspominaia te usiliia, s kotorymi ia otryval tsvetok. — Kak on usilenno zashchishchal i dorogo prodal svoiu zhizn'”.[1]

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Lermontov: The Caucasus in Russian Literary Imagination (part III)

Lermontov’s Prison and Home

As ethnography was carving out the truth from the realm of the imagined, and literature made its way through the thorns of Caucasian landscape (or, possibly, the other way around), in parallel, the invisible work of spatial appropriation was taking place over the decades of 1820s to 1840s[1]. While literary devices persisted, and were visible, the positioning in the Caucasus was no less visible but fluent and volatile. By the 1930s the character of the war theatre changed considerably, compared to 1920s. To survive and confront Ermolov’s terror, many of the previously discordant tribes, which used to lead their resistance campaigns each on their own, gradually consolidated into a single entity, which raised its flag in 1929 as the Caucasian Imamate, a theocratic Islamic state. The newly proclaimed state’s declared mission was gazawat, a holy war against the infidels. The rhetoric of gazawat, though, was not confined to matters of belief – it was unequivocally directed against Russia. In other words, the Caucasian gazawat was a struggle for independencу from the Russian Empire, in which Islam started serving a unifying role.

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Book review by Robert Chenciner: Alisa Ganieva. The Holiday Moutain.

Robert Chenciner, a senior member St. Antony’s College at University of Oxford, and author of Dagestan: Tradition and Survival (Palgrave Macmillan, Caucasus World Series, 1997), reviews Alisa Ganieva’s much-discussed book, The Holiday Mountain.

Walls should be a wonderful construct for this story. The walls visible from outer space are the Great Wall of China, Hadrian’s Wall across north Britain, the triple walls of Constantinople, the Sassanian Persian walls of Derbent, and others in Dagestan. In modern times there rose the former Berlin Wall, the West Bank Wall, and the Belfast Wall. So the mythical wall of the title is in rich company.

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