The stories that shaped the Caucasus are as ancient as language; water flowing evenly over mountains jagged and dangerous home to highland people who are as enigmatic as they are enthralling, their history deposited as olden pebbles in a river that continues to flow. To understand this land is to reach down into the basement of time; to try to grasp the full breadth and depth of the story of humanity itself. For this reason, it is a feat best accomplished in bite-sized chunks.
“The Ghost of Freedom: A History of the Caucasus” is just such an effort. This book is a glance at the history of the ‘nations’ of the Caucasus (that is before they became nations, and some of which still are not), those peoples nestled between the Black and Caspian seas in the highlands on either side of the most imposing mountain range in Europe. The Alps of the East; long after those central European peaks became tamed. King’s history is one of the ‘modern’ Caucasus, that is to say from roughly the beginning of Russian imperialism until the fall of the Soviet Union. It is the story of the Caucasus defined by the giant to the north; as the histories of these countries have been for the last two-hundred years.
It is a story of the search for security, for legitimacy, for nationhood; for peace juxtaposed against the desire to be free and the natural tensions that come from this paradox. The book is well researched, and well written; an excellent introduction to the struggles of the modern nation-states who are in search of their role in the future, their place in history’s past already being as firmly established as the snows upon Mount Ararat. For those who seek to understand the Caucasus, much reading, study, thought and reflection is required. “The Ghost of Freedom” should be part of this project.