Monday, May 14, 2007

Hadji Murat

A couple of months ago I read in the New York Times (in "Turn to Tolstoy," by Rory Stewart) how politicians who have taken to publicizing their supposed reading lists should be reading Leo Tolstoy's last major work of fiction, Hadji Murat. I decided to read it myself and finally started over the weekend. It's based on a Chechen hero from Russia's mid-nineteenth century "mission to bring modern government and economic growth to a medieval Muslim state" (as Stewart puts it). Sound vaguely familiar?

Anyway, the book's opening prologue sets up Tolstoy's symbol ("a crushed thistle in the middle of a ploughed-up field") for what Hadji Murat represents. But before I reached the thistle on the narrator's walk through the fields, I came upon something I'd seen on a blog recently...
I was returning home through the fields. It was the very height of summer. The meadows had been mown, and the rye was just about to be cut.

There is a delightful selection of flowers at that time of the year: red, white, and pink clover, fragrant and fluffy; impudent daisies; milky white "she-loves-me, she-loves-me-nots" with their bright yellow centers and their fusty, heady smell; yellow rape with its honeyed scent...
You used to be able to see Steve Glossin's photographs of a rape field on one of his blogs (but it's no longer available). Glossin* didn't take his photos at "the height of summer" (or in Russia) but in early spring (in Bavaria).
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* Glossin took the photograph that appears on my own blog masthead.

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