When Aliko, returning to his herds, meets up with a stranger who mutters an unintelligible ""Jamaluddin"" before expiring, the fifteen-year-old has no thoughts of a soldier's career in the army of Imam Shamyl, spiritual leader of the Moslems in their Holy War (gasavat) against the Moscow devils. At the stranger's behest, Aliko carries a cryptic message to the Imam. The boy's resemblance to the leader's son Jamaluddin ticks off a friendship that is suspended when the latter is taken hostage. Aliko develops into a valuable soldier for the True Believers; Jamaluddin grows up in St. Petersburg and acquiesces to the ways of the enemy. When they meet fourteen years later the Imam's son argues that the gasavat will not accomplish anything--there is value in both causes. Aliko follows his friend's advice, removes his family to Armenia (part of an enormous exodus) just before the Imam's massive defeat ends a seventy year struggle. For the inveterate reader -- a headstart on Tolstoyan bulk but without the particularity and range of his personality twitches. Nevertheless, a skillful weave of nineteenth century Caucasus ridges and customs with foreign mercenaries and native support, a personal hero not always in view, and not a samovar in sight.