Friday, March 11, 2005

Amazonian fight for Chezenya

You've got to wonder why some people go to the trouble of churning out literary vomitus. The following is a reader's review of Tolstoy's Hadji Murat found on Amazon (quoted verbatim):

According to Frederik Stork (who is he btw?) this book will explain more on Chezenya than a thousand hours of CNN. It is one of the four praises on the back cover. Another one is by famous philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. Hadzji Moerat is a rebel, according to some, a hero, according to others. Which is exactly the point to me. A freedom fighter and a terrorist are no different, the only difference is how they are being percepted. If you think about it, it is true. I wonder if the US and their 'fight against terrorism' have thought about it.

Moerat fights for freedom of the Cheznyans, oppressed by the Russians. The era we talk about is 1850, though it could have easily been written a century and a half later. This is one of the reasons I love reading Tolstoj. His books are never dated. War and peace, his 1800-page masterpiece talks about Napoleon invading Russia. It could have been about any war. Tolstoj, one of the great Russian authors, has a strong sense of justice. He criticises the church, even though he is a Christian himself, he doesn't like the aristocracy, though isn't exactly working class himself, and he dislikes (in this book) the Russians, his country.

As an avid fan I have read quite a few books by Tolstoj. This is not my favourite. Not big enough, not deep enough, not compared to some of his classics. But that still means an extremely high level, that most authors will never reach.
If you're still interested, here's a more measured account of Tolstoy's work and here's something less frugal in its praise:

Hadji Murat is the real thing: a genuine classic, with an acute contemporary resonance. It speaks not only to Russia’s ongoing war with Chechen separatists but to the clash of East and West that concerns us all.

Harold Bloom, in The Western Canon, elevates Hadji Murat to masterpiece status. It is my touchstone for the sublime in prose fiction, to me the best story in the world, or at least the best that I have ever read. Bloom read the story 40 years ago and has been haunted by it since. I read it just a few weeks ago and the haunting is still fresh.

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