ARLINGTON, Mass.—The exotic and mysterious Caucasus has long captured the imagination of writers, artists, and travelers. The Russian Empire’s southward expansion “stimulated an incomparably rich body of literature and an exceptionally lively engagement with questions of Russian cultural identity.” Alexander Pushkin’s poem “The Prisoner of the Caucasus,” Leo Tolstoy’s Hadji Murat, and the works of other Russian literary luminaries who dominated the literary Caucasus in the 1830’s and 1840’s, are among some of the best known.
Written in 1834 by Platon P. Zubov (1796-1857), the early 19th-century Russian novelist, The Astrologer of Karabagh is a fascinating historical novel. Shrouded in a passionate love story, it is based on developments in 18th-century Karabagh, which at the time was engulfed in tumult and transformation. This is the first English edition of Zubov’s novel. Its only other translation is in Armenian—in 1882 by the prominent 19th-century novelist Raffi (1835-88).
Platon P. Zubov was born to a prominent family in Russia. His literary career, which began in 1834, spans more than 2 decades and includes 21 major pieces. The author of numerous works, including poetry, songs, quatrains, novels, as well as anthologies, his rich literary legacy includes important source materials, statistical data, charts and tables, biographies of famous military generals, geographical descriptions, anthropological sketches, and observations on the lifestyle and culture of the people of the Caucasus. The Astrologer of Karabagh is perhaps one of his best and yet least known works.
“The historical novel portrays the historic life-experience of a people. It recounts within its limits how a people have lived and toiled. It highlights its customs, traditions, and manners; its intellectual and moral characteristics. In other words, it personifies the man of times past in its original and primordial shape, which has evolved over time and become unrecognizable for the present generation…” These words by Raffi most accurately speak to the significance and role of historical facts in nurturing the mind and enriching the imagination of a novelist. The Astrologer of Karabagh, though a work of fiction, reflects the realities of a stormy period in the Caucasus, where new values and loyalties replaced the old ones and transformed the region forever. It provides food for thought on the power of history in shaping the present.
The Astrologer of Karabagh was translated from the original 1834 Russian edition by Artashes Emin. With an introduction, annotations, and bibliography of Platon Zubov’s major works, it is edited by Ara Ghazarians, the curator of the Armenian Cultural Foundation (ACF). Copies of The Astrologer of Karabagh are available for sale at the ACF (781-646-3090; [email protected]) and at major Armenian bookstores in the U.S.