*Caucasus Mountains. Mountain range south of Moscow between the Black and Caspian Seas that has historically been regarded as the dividing line between Europe and Asia. Now divided among several former Soviet republics, the region was under Russian domination in the nineteenth century. With its picturesque mountains and many fiercely independent tribes, the region occupies a place in Russian literary tradition similar to that of the Wild West in American literature. The various tribes of Tatars, Chechens, Circassians, Azeris, Georgians, Armenians, and others were often regarded as “noble savages” in a manner similar to the literary romanticization of Native Americans.
The Chechens in particular were renowned as fierce fighters, and the appellation dzhigit is often compared to the expression “brave” for a Native American warrior, although it is inextricably linked to expert horsemanship in a way that even the great Plains Indians never attained. The Chechens were also far more successful at resisting Russian overlordship than any Native American societies were at resisting the westward expansion of the United States. Indeed, since the breakup of the Soviet Union in the early 1990’s, the Chechens have continued to resist Russian domination.
Although Tolstoy’s novel is to some degree the Russian equivalent of an American Western story, Tolstoy tempers the romantic imagery of the half-wild Cossacks and...
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