ARLINGTON, Mass. — The exotic and mysterious Caucasus has always 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 works of other Russian literary luminaries, such as Bestuzhev-Marlinsky, Mikhail Lermontov and others who dominated the literary Caucasus in the 1830 and 1840s 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 historical developments in 18th-century Karabagh, which was engulfed in tumult and transformation. This is the first-ever English edition of Zubov’s novel. It was previously only translated into Armenian in 1882 by the prominent 19th-century Armenian novelist, Raffi.
Zubov was born to one of the prominent families in Russia. His literary career, beginning in 1834, spans over two decades and includes 21 major pieces including poetry, songs, quatrains, novels as well as anthologies. 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 has 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 the great Raffi (1835-1888) most accurately speak to the significance and role of historical facts in nurturing the mind and enrich 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 has been translated from the original Russian by Artashes Emin. With an introduction, annotations and bibliography of Zubov’s major works, it is edited by Ara Ghazarians, the curator of the Armenian Cultural Foundation (ACF).