Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 9, No. 5. May 7, 1946
—Batu Khan by V. Yan
—Batu Khan by V. Yan
This Russian novel, translated by Lionel Erskine Britton, is the second part of the author's trilogy devoted to the conquest of North-eastern Russia in the 13th and 14th centuries by Batu Kahn, grandson of the great Genghlz Kahn.
In the novel the author describes vividly and with great power the tragedy of the Russian people, helpless before the disunity of their princes, and dying manfully in battle against a numerous and highly organised enemy, but able even in disaster to preserve that living force which in the end must bring them victory. Very seldom does Mr. Yan resort to the right of a novelist to some measure of historical fiction to attain artistic ends, but nevertheless with the aid of historical records and chronicles of the limes he manages to mould his characters in relief against their historical background.
An interesting feature of the work is the account of the comparatively high degree of organisation of the Tartar Army, divided into tens, hundreds and thousands, and assured a regular military structure whose strict discipline distinguished it sharply from the Feudal Levies of Western Europe and Russia. Their military technique is also of historical interest, as they made use of the technology of lite subject peoples of Asia, especially China.
The point of greatest interest is the interpretation of the historical role of the Tartar hordes. Ralph Fox, in his work "Genghis Kahn." adheres to the view that the Tartar invaders were a civilising force, bringing great cultural advancement to the subject peoples, Yan, on the Other hand, draws his material from the contemporary chronicles such as Bishop Serapron of Vladimir, who tells of unbelievable devastation, massacre and torture, of productive lands lain waste, great areas depopulated, and monuments of culture destroyed. In the words of Bakhmskin "So darkness fell for an age upon our history" which Karl Marx has called "a bloody slime beneath the Mongol yoke."
However, interpretation apart, the novel as such has great merit and can he recommended as a fascinating story of one momentous heat in the pulse of history.
All books reviewed in this issue of "Salient" were lent by the courtesy of Modern Books. Wellington.