Hadji Murat is a novella by Tolstoy about the nineteenth-century war between the Muslim peoples in the Caucasus and the Russians. The title character is an Avar (a North Caucasus people) leader who, because of a conflict with another man of his own group, Shamil (Shamil has kidnaped Murat's wife and children) goes over to the Russian side. Though the Russians are accepting of him at first, Murat eventually sees that they do not trust him. As the fighting continues between the Russians and the Avars, Murat escapes from the Russian fort where he's being held. Later the Russians converge upon Murat and his group, kill him, and decapitate him.
Tolstoy incorporates several tangential episodes into the story, perhaps the most important of which involves the Russian czar Nicholas I. The czar is shown as cynical and corrupt. This is in keeping with Tolstoy's portrayals in most of his writings of the amorality and hypocrisy of the Russian upper class of which Tolstoy was a member. The main point of Hadji Murat is to show the injustice of Russian imperialism in the Caucasus. Murat himself goes over to the Russians not because he is a traitor but because the other leaders on his own side, such as Shamil, are themselves ruthless and corrupt and have attacked his family. That the Russians refuse to trust him and end up killing him is an indication that both sides in the Caucasus conflict are deeply flawed and that a man of integrity such as Murat cannot survive among them.
(Note that throughout I have used the transliteration "Murat" instead of "Murad" because it more closely corresponds to Tolstoy's Russian spelling Мурат.)
Hadji Murad takes place in the mid-nineteenth century Caucasus Mountains, where a religious civil war has been waged by the Tartar Moslem mountaineers, also known as the Chechen, against the Russian imperial army and Orthodox church, who are attempting to repress them and to extend the empire. As the story opens, Hadji Murad, a Tartar governor and a warrior of legendary prowess, has defected from the forces of Shamil, the Chechen holy leader (Imam), and is in flight. Hadji Murad is trying to negotiate with the Russians to join their forces and take revenge against Shamil, who has killed many of his kin and who holds his mother, two wives, and five children hostage. He finds refuge and hospitality in the home of Sado, who runs some risk because the rest of the village hope to capture his guest. Hadji Murad sends messengers to the Russians to offer his surrender on the condition that they accept him into their forces, help him regain his family, and let him fight with them to destroy Shamil.
Meanwhile, the villagers try to capture Hadji Murad, who gallops through their barricade and escapes into the forest, where he finds the rest of his men waiting for him. The next day, he is received at Fort Vozdvighensk by Prince Vorontsov, whose father is the viceroy and sirdar in the Caucasus. Both father and son hope to benefit from Hadji Murad’s defection, and they receive him with much ceremony.
Hadji Murad relates his past life to the sirdar’s aide-de-camp, Loris-Melikov. As a child and young man, Hadji Murad was a close friend of the Khan family. When a holy war erupted between the Chechens and the Russians, the Moslem Imam, Hamzad, urged the Khans to join. When they asked him first to explain the war, he mutilated their messengers and betrayed and killed the Khans; his second-in-command, Shamil, threw the youngest son over a precipice. Hadji Murad fled. That was the only time in his life that he was afraid. In revenge, he and his brother killed Hamzad in the mosque. During the assassination, the brother was killed, but Hadji Murad escaped. When Shamil succeeded Hamzad, he invited Hadji Murad to join him, but the latter refused; the blood of his brother and the Khans was on Shamil’s hands. Instead, Hadji Murad joined the Russians and was made governor of Avaria. A rival soon traduced him, had him imprisoned, and then had his...
(The entire section is 1,179 words.)