“What a delightful place, that valley! On all sides rise inaccessible mountains, reddish cliffs, hung over with green ivy and crowned with clumps of plane trees; tawny precipices streaked with washes, and, far above, the golden fringe of the snows; below, Aragava River, infolding another, nameless, river which noisily bursts forth from a black gorge full of gloom, stretches out in a silver thread and glistens like the scaling of a snake.”1
The Georgian Military Highway serves as the backdrop for the frame story in Mikhail Lermentov’s A Hero of Our Time. Traveling this route through the Caucasus Mountains in the 1830s, the unnamed narrator meets the Russian military officer Maksim Maksimich. As the two share the road passing slowly through the deep valleys beneath towering mountains, Maksimich recounts stories of a younger officer named Pechorin, a character Lermontov described as “a portrait composed of all the vices of our generation in the fullness of their development.” For the first few sections of the book, the narration moves back and forth between romantic descriptions of the mountains along the road and the dangerous apathy of Pechorin.
The Caucasus range is one of the natural dividers of Asia and Europe, and the path followed by the Georgian Military Highway has been used by traders and invading forces for millennia. With the Black Sea to the east and the Caspian to the west, this route, which rises to 7,815 feet as it goes over the Jvari Pass, is the only passable overland passage between Georgia in the south and Russia in the north.
1Lermontov, Mikhail. A Hero of Our Time. Trans. Vladimir Nabokov. New York: Ardis, 2002. 3. Print.
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