Thursday, April 01, 2010

Leo Tolstoy: Hadji Murat (povest / a tale)

Хаджи-Мурат. RU 1912. Read in the Finnish translation by Eero Balk. Helsinki: Basam Books 2001.

Re-read in anticipation of the Alexandre Volkoff / Ivan Mosjoukine film adaptation Leo Tolstoy's posthumous tale, the most profoundly personal of his late works, which I knew previously from the original 1912 Finnish translation by Arvid Järnefelt. Harold Bloom has named this "my personal touchstone for the sublime of prose fiction, to me the best story in the world, or at least the best that I have ever read" (The Western Canon). The povest (tale) format fitted Tolstoy very well. There is a vigour and relish in the storytelling, and a mobility of viewpoints. Hadzhi Murat is the protagonist, and he is viewed first via a symbol (the irrepressible thistle), then as a memory, in direct action, and as seen by several Russians, including the Czar. Even Hadzhi Murat's own autobiographical remarks are included. His last stand is described in direct action before we return to the symbol. The multiple perspectives lead us to the way of understanding something overwhelming. Harold Bloom notes that Tolstoy's approach here resembles the Bible, Homer, and Shakespeare. The simple grandeur is moving. The tale is based on historical record and Tolstoy's own experiences as an officer during the Caucasian wars.

Amazingly, the ardent Christian Leo Tolstoy and the Western Canon's philosopher Harold Bloom give a special status to a tale of a Chechen warlord dedicated to a Holy War against the Christian (and today also the Judaic) world. The tale is more topical than ever now during the current "clash of the civilizations". There is a direct link from Hadzhi Murat to the explosion of the Twin Towers on the 11 of September in 2001, and Tolstoy helps us understand.

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