01 June 2011
Hadji Murat, by Leo Tolstoy
You know, even when Tolstoy is mediocre, he's still pretty good. Hadji Murat reads almost like a sketch for a longer novel, a War and Peace of the Caucuses. One wishes he'd actually written it, instead of this somewhat disappointing, meandering yet brief work. Although the main focus is Hadji Murat, various other characters appear and occasionally resurface, as though the narrator's attention has temporarily strayed. Shifts in behavior happen over a few lines instead of the 40 pages you might expect (from Tolstoy at least). Nonetheless, there is something interesting and somewhat compelling about the characters - even half baked, they still exert a certain power. There's not enough historical information to give you both the feel and the understanding of what's going on, unfortunately. All the more the pity, because he's dealing with conflict within the Russian Empire, which would be really fascinating to explore further, particularly because he doesn't seem all that sympathetic to the (ethnic) Russians. What an incredible novel this could have been! But alas, it didn't become one, and as is, honestly, you can definitely give it a miss.