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Alan Cherchesov

REQUIEM FOR THE LIVING

a novel

ISBN 5-7172-0070-6, 300 pp.

Translated by Subhi Shervell

Sample writing excerpt from the novel

"This Ossetian author skillfully blends the European and the Oriental thinking to create a ‘divan’: a complex Eastern literary genre, bringing to mind a Tibetan carpet. His story about the search for a lost time creates a polyphonic chorus of memories, inspiring vague associations with Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky and Gogol." – Die Welt

"An exciting flow of gripping imagery conveys a mythical history through a chorus of voices led by a strange boy nicknamed Alone in the village. The boy takes the center place in the village community, trying to turn its fortunes but he meets with failure." – Die Zeit

Requiem for the Living is the life story of an orphan boy nicknamed Alone who grows up alone in a mountain village in North Ossetia. With his unordinariness he causes chaos and despair in a hitherto peaceful community, leaving the inhabitants changed and resentful to cope with the consequences of the events that he has set in motion, and questioning the nature and the basis of their traditional existence.
Alone first strikes his fellow villagers’ imagination and becomes the talk of the village at the age of ten, when he returns to the owners one of the horses stolen by his relatives. Thus he not only avoids the traditional savage punishment for his family’s guilt but also becomes the sole owner of the household abandoned by his foster family who fled beyond the mountain pass to save themselves from the imminent blood feud. Soon Alone finds an ingenious way of providing himself with all the necessities without tilling the land personally, for which he is too young anyway, and practically turns his neighbors into his farmhands. Naturally, the villagers dislike him for being so clever and different and, moreover, being invariably fortunate in all his undertakings.
Increasingly the enterprising boy plays the role of an intermediary between the ages-old village traditions and the alien culture penetrating the village from the nearest Russian town, which they still call a fort. His fellow villagers regard his behaviour with hostility, believing that he was the one who poisoned them all with greed and other vices of that alien Russian culture.
But no matter how rootless the boy may seem or wish to be, human contact and bonds of love and family are inescapable and catch up with him in the end.
At some point though his luck abandons him and all his attempts to prevent disaster only end up in more disasters.

This novel, which critics have likened to Faulkner and Garcia Marquez’, is a philosophical parable in which the hero's unique abilities and alienation underscore the distinctive Caucasian culture and their strict code of honour. However, Cherchesov’s portrait of the Caucasus is very different from the familiar descriptions we find in the Russian classics (e.g., in Pushkin and Tolstoy) or in contemporary fiction and the media. Although Cherchesov’s novel also abounds in ethnographic detail it is not meant for the tourist or news-hunters -- it is told from within an endemic culture threatened by the advance of the modern civilization.
Cherchesov’s characters value honor above all else, they religiously observe the laws of the clan and community, and treasure their family graves. All of these often lead to tragedy, especially when these laws clash with those from a different culture.
It should be reminded that Ossetians come from the Scythians (known as Alans in the 9th-13th centuries) who later embraced Christianity, unlike the neighbouring ethnic minorities of the Caucasus, who mostly turned to Islam.
Cherchesov’s writing is rooted in Ossetian mythology enriched both by classical Russian and 20th century world literature. His powerful style and original story have been appreciated even by those who found it difficult reading.

"Cherchesov's novel is a completely new phenomenon in contemporary literature. The author has the courage and the talent to go against the grain, disregarding fashionable trends and well-trodden paths, to create a highly original work." – Neue Presse

"You are carried off on an exciting trip into the unknown, into the very depth of an ancient world that impresses you with the wisdom of its view of life, that is naive in its collective thinking and therefore doomed to destruction." – Mitteldeutsche Zeitung

Alan Cherchesov, born in 1962, lives in Vladikavkaz, the capital of North Ossetia. A graduate of the North-Ossetian University, he lectures there on world literature and edits a university journal of cultural studies. He is the founder and director of the Institute of Civilization in Vladikavkaz, which provides alternative education in the humanities.
An Ossetian writing in Russian, Cherchesov has two novels and a number of short stories to his name. His novel Wreath on the Grave of the Wind, a sequel to Requem for the Living, was awarded the prize of the Russian Academy of Critics and published in German by DVA. Requiem for the Living was published in German by S. Fischer.

Review in the Slavic and East European Journal