“With this impassioned volume he has struck a blow for the glory of the Caucasus and helped to give voice to the voiceless.”
The Financial Times
“Oliver Bullough’s first book marks him out as a distinguished researcher, observer and narrator.”
“What makes the book particularly compelling... is not the macro statistics or the composite history but rather the poignant tales of the individuals Bullough met on his travels.”
“He succeeds brilliantly. Let Our Fame Be Great is a beautifully written piece of reportage intertwined with historical narrative.”
Times Literary Supplement
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Taster & Outtake
Introduction / A discarded chapter
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About The Book
Two centuries ago, the Russians pushed out of the cold north towards the Caucasus Mountains, the range that blocked their access to Georgia, Turkey, Persia and India. They were forging their colonial destiny, the mountains were in their way.
The Caucasus had to be conquered, and, for the highlanders who lived there, life would never be the same again. If the Russians expected it to be an easy fight, however, they were mistaken. Their armies would go on to defeat Napoleon and Hitler, as well as lesser foes, but no one resisted them for as long as these supposed savages.
To hear the stories of the conquest, I travelled far from the mountains. I wandered through the steppes of Central Asia and the cities of Turkey. I squatted outside internment camps in Poland, and drank tea beneath the gentle hills of Israel. The stories I heard amplified the outrage I saw in the mountains themselves, and reminded me of a folk story told in the mountains.
According to the tale, the god of the highlanders looked down one day on the ancestors of today’s peoples - the Narts - and decided to give them a choice. So he sent a swallow to ask them a question.
“Do you want to be few and to live a short life but have great fame and have your courage be an example for others for evermore?” asked the swallow. “Or perhaps you would prefer that there will be many of you, that your numbers will be great, that you will have whatever you wish to eat and drink, and that you will all live long lives without ever knowing battle or glory?”
Throughout the sagas of the Narts, of which there are hundreds, they delight in holding councils. But this time, they needed no time to think. As one, they gave the swallow their answer.
“If our lives are to be short, then let our fame be great! Let us not depart from the truth! Let fairness be our path! Let us not know grief! Let us live in freedom!”
The trouble with the story, I realised when I heard it, was that their god had not kept his side of the bargain. Their lives have indeed been cut short, and they have indeed known battle after battle. But they have not been spared grief, and they have been denied fairness.
Who now remembers the Nogais? Or the Circassians? Or dozens of the other nations of the mountains? Their fame is not great, but truly it deserves to be. They are the subjects of my book.