"Il deserto dei Tartari" is a novel from the Italian writer Dino Buzzati. The whole life of Giovanni Drogo is described, since as a 21 year old newly appointed lieutenant he arrives at the Fortress, full of ambitions and with a whole life in front of him. The Fortress dominates the desert from where the Tartars are supposed to arrive, as they did many many years before. But it's a long time they do not show up anymore and the Fortress has now lost all its strategic importance. They are lost and forgotten by the rest of the world. Nevertheless soldiers assigned to the Fortress eagerly wait for the enemy to come, to do their duty as soldiers, to defend the reign and to become heroes. So they train everyday over and over, strictly following procedures and orders. Hoping for the enemies to arrive and defeat them is the only thing they live for. They have dedicated their whole life to this and to defeat the enemy is the only payback. Giovanni Drogo as well is deceived by the Fortress and by the hope of the glory to come, and he will spend there the best years of his youth and then his whole life. Most important, there is the awareness of not being able to come back to his old world, as he no more belongs to it. Waiting for the enemy, months and years pass by, until the final hoax. In the end the enemy arrives but Giovanni Drogo is now too old and sick to fight and he is sent back home and he will die on the way back, realizing that his mission was to confront death with dignity.

There are traders who train themselves and then go and fight where the real war is, continuously training on the field. They do not wait for the enemy (the good trades), they confront him every day. Someone wins and someone loses, as in every war. Others are living in the Fortress. They wait, full of hopes, for the enemy and then the glory (the money) to come. Duly training and verifying that they are prepared for that moment. But the time goes by inexorably. And every time the enemy arrives, they are not in the condition to fight it, deceived by the Fortress.

 Don Chu comments:

 Perspective is a fascinating thing. And the different ways in which we may grind our lenses of perspective (Spinoza may agree) can produce hints of subtle shifts in views, or reveal startling insights of vastly different panorama.

Time (or at least one of its facsimiles, that is, the numbered sequencing of events), is one element which can alter or colour our lenses while looking at the same object. I read J. M. Coetzee’s “Waiting for the Barbarians” before Buzzati’s “The Tartar Steppe”; and thus may never be able to see from the eyes of a young Drogo (with his conflicting hopes and fears of anticipating yet dreading the barbarian hordes just beyond the steppe), without the spectre of Coetzee’s jaded and weary old Magistrate hanging heavily, and with the latter’s resigned knowledge that the darkest enemy lies not yonder, but within.

[Coetzee’s “Waiting for the Barbarians”, in a way picks up where “The Tartar Steppe” ends; with the old Magistrate more or less having come to terms with his own existence (with hints of a younger Drogo-past), after spending his entire career guarding his frontier town against the ‘unimaginable’ barbarians. The enemy finally arrives, but from within (the empire), forcing an excursion from the mundane but familiar routine into the dreaded frontier-lands.

The battle with the barbarians may finally be joined, but is it in the way as had always been imagined — dignified imperialists defending their rightful lands from the menacing barbarian horde? Or as self-righteous barbarians once again disappropriating the lands of a diminishing indigenous people, to feed the appetite of an always-expanding empire…]

As a trader, my first objective is profit and success and indeed, am perhaps no different from earlier profit-seekers adventuring across oceans and continents in the name of “God, gold and glory”. But there may be cause for some self-examination, and a tempering of appetites will not hurt.





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