I picked this book up in my local library, realising, when I saw the title, that I know nothing about Chechnya except that it fought a war with Russia. I now know very much more.
At first it seems a confusing book: part personal memoir, part history, part folklore and very much anti-war polemic. However, despite the author’s claim to be ‘mad’, it’s easy to follow the different themes.
Above all it is a lament. The losses and the ‘might-have-beens’ pile up. Some specifically written about – dead friends, bombed villages; some suggested – lost simplicity, useless achievements. While much of the world rejoiced in the fall of Communism, Sadulaev and his friends discovered “One day we woke up in another country.”. He compares this to the previous deportation of Chechens under Stalin, but implies that in some ways the loss is more permanent. The motherland was still there for the deportees, but for him she is gone forever.
It’s a very personal book, but at the same time deals with universals. It gives some of the clearest descriptions I’ve read of the horrors of war – and they are the same for all victims in all places. The importance of family, love of land, the games of childhood giving way to the ambiguities of adulthood reminded me of these things in my own life, which has been much less dramatic that Sadulaev’s. I frequently felt the ‘that’s so true’ moment of recognition that one gets from a good book.