Book Review: Hadji Murad

Hadji Murád

J.K. George's review

Apr 18, 2022
A recommendation from a book club friend, but not yet selected by anyone as a "scheduled read."

"Hadji Murad," a short 101 pages, is chocked full of early 1920s writing and long Russian and Chechen names, and it's difficult to understand because of these and the long-time enmity between these two different cultures. Hadji (meaning a Muslim who has made the pilgrimage to Mecca) Murad is a tribal leader who ends up questioning his Iman leader and makes himself available to the Russians in a long-standing war in the Caucasus Mountains. Clearly there are complications and doubts and subterfuges on both sides including the fact that the Muslim leader holds Murad's entire family as an insurance policy of sorts. Hadji Murad makes his decision, and the complexities of the region and the cultures are vividly displayed.

Tolstoy uses an interesting literary technique with startling and dramatic effect: he lists a major development, often unexpected, and then follows with "how this happened" in the next chapter. I found this effective: chapter XXV is a splendid example of this method.

Given the present tensions between Russia and the "West," this book presents the grand days of the Czar and Russian Empire in powerful terms, told by one of the most gifted storytellers of all time. The foreign words and somewhat dated vocabulary make it a demanding read at times, but it's worth the effort. A short list of Tartar words used in italics in the story is, unfortunately, presented at the very end of the book; it should have been in the front.

This edition was translated brilliantly by Aylmer Maude. Unfortunately, there are numerous small but troublesome typing errors by the typesetter distributed throughout the book.

Jim George

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