“Tolstoy’s book is about a Shamil lieutenant, Hadji Murad, who goes over to the Russians, then tries to go back. What I like about it is that it shows war as profoundly ignoble – as an awful combination of personal circumstances that end in disaster for everyone. Hadji Murad, it turns out, was forced by tribal politics to join Shamil and become his star fighter; he turns to the Russians because he’s forced by more murderous tribal politics. He fears for his family and he tries to go back, with disastrous consequences, because rivalries among the Russian generals mean he doesn’t get the honourable deal from them that he’s been promised. Tolstoy is fearless in showing everyone in the theatre of war trapped between two tyrannies, the Russian tyranny a terrifying imposition, but the demands of the mountain armies no less tyrannical. The book also has a powerful and much-quoted description of how Chechen villagers feel when their homes are burned to the ground by Russian troops. “No one spoke of hatred of the Russians. The feeling experienced by all the Chechens, from the youngest to the oldest, was stronger than hate. It was not hatred, for they did not regard those Russian dogs as human beings … the desire to exterminate them – like the desire to exterminate rats, poisonous spiders, or wolves – was as natural an instinct as that of self-preservation.”” Read more...
The best books on Chechnya