By Carolly Erickson
Making the most of fabric unavailable till the autumn of the Soviet Union, this biography of Alexandra, the final tsarina, explores: her early life bereavement; her lengthy fight to achieve her romantic objective of marriage to Nicholas; the suffering of her pathological shyness; the struggles together with her in-laws; a fake being pregnant; her expanding eccentricities as she grew to become extra preoccupied with issues of religion; and her becoming dependence on a chain of occult mentors, the main infamous of whom used to be Rasputin.
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It is because of Chechnya that Boris Yeltsin finally cut ties with the democratic reformers; that Russians came to elect the exKGB officer Vladimir Putin; that extreme nationalists and racists left the shadows for centre stage; that the armed forces failed to reform. Russians badly want to believe that Chechnya is a fringe affair. This is made easier when the media hides what has happened. Yet, regardless, the ruins of Grozny and many Chechen villages are there. So are the graves of many tens of thousands of Russian citizens and Russian soldiers.
Russian reporters, with one or two brave exceptions, go there to serve as government mouthpieces. Internet websites present all views, but few facts. The only way even to taste the truth is to travel inside Chechnya and speak to ordinary Chechens – but this is complicated, time-consuming and on occasion dangerous. In such a climate, one could do far worse than to reopen Tolstoy, who a century ago absorbed a number of profound lessons about Russia and about Chechnya that are worth relearning. The reader might turn to the famous scene in Hadji Murat in which Russian troops lay waste to a Chechen village.
P65 12 6/12/2000, 11:04 am The Jigsaw 13 Even without Narts, the Caucasus is steeped in myth and legend. The Garden of Eden is said to have been in Abkhazia and Noah’s dove rested on Mount Elbrus. The ancient Greek hero Prometheus was chained to the Caucasus – either Elbrus or Kazbek, according to different versions – after he stole fire from the gods, and Jason landed on the coast of Georgia in search of the Golden Fleece. But Narts are peculiarly Caucasian. They were North Caucasians at the beginning of time, close cousins of the Titans in Greek myth.