Sunday, April 04, 2010

Leo Tolstoy: The Cossacks (povest / a tale)

Казаки / Kasakat. RU 1863. Finnish translation by Kaj Kauhanen. Helsinki: Kirjayhtymä 1960.

Inspired by our tribute to Leo Tolstoy I re-read this povest (tale) which Í knew previously in a translation by Jalo Kalima. After a long gestation Tolstoy published this at a turning-point of his life having just gotten married and before writing War and Peace. I had previously read this tale in a volume which includes Childhood, Boyhood, and Youth, and it is a continuation to them, a fictional, semi-autobiographical coming-of-age tale of a young aristocrat who leaves Moscow to join the war at the Caucasus, in Chechenia. The protagonist is called Dmitri Andreyevich Olenin. In this story he witnesses skirmishes between the Chechens and the Cossacks, an episode in the Holy War Imam Shamil has declared on Russia, treated epically in Tolstoy's tale Hadji Murat. Although also inspired by Homer, The Cossacks is not an epic tale. It is a tale of a young man's first encounter with an alien culture. Although this is a war story, there is no racism, no condescension. On the contrary, the fierce love of freedom of the Caucasian peoples is celebrated. Olenin falls in love with the Cossack way of life and with the proud young Cossack maid Maryanka but he realizes that he is a stranger among the Cossacks. The Cossacks is a foreigner's declaration of love to the peoples of the Caucasus. In the city Olenin has experienced confusion, self-doubt and a loss of direction. On a hunting trip Olenin experiences an epiphany. He realizes who he is, what life is, and what happiness is. The solution to the crisis of identity is to stop looking at oneself and to start to live for others.

No comments: