Thursday, May 19, 2016

"Peasant Tales of Russia" by V.I. Nemirovitch-Dantchenko

Since this is a collection of short stories, I'll review each of these and then summarize my experience of the collection. I found this ebook on Amazon and picked it up (despite its poor rating) because the book I had been reading for #TTWIB May Russian book read wasn't grabbing my attention. Since I gathered this would be a shorter read with folk tales (something I generally enjoy), it didn't take much thought to switch what I was reading.

"The Deserted Mine"
The plot of this one is simple- miners are trapped with no apparent escape in a deep shaft that is filling with water. They look to a somewhat senile-seeming old man (who they all know has worked the tunnels for the longest) for a way out.

This story almost seems like a Russian addition to the Bible, for spoilery reasons that I cannot disclose. That said, religious imagery of the Christian variety is front and center for this story, and it kind of spoiled the end of it for me (and I'm a Christian, darn it!). There is a fine line between inspirational and oh my word- look, it's an INSPIRATIONAL story. Subtlety is not one of the virtues of this short tale, but I did enjoy the first part of it more than the other stories in this collection.

"Mahmoud's Family"
I'm not too up on my history, so all I can say of the plot for this one is it's set during a war between the Russians and the Ottomans (or so I'm led to believe). Russian soldiers find an escaped prisoner of war (Mahmoud), who they plan on taking back to the main encampment for safekeeping, though he begs them not to. The soldiers are forced between a choice of duty and common decency, which proves to be a difficult decision.

This story has the flavor of a fable about it- leaning less towards religion-y lesson and more towards morality tale. I think other than The Luck of Ivan the Forgetful, it's my favorite of the bunch because of its concise storyline. Although there was still plenty of description, this story was a lot faster paced than the others.

"A Misunderstanding"
The plot of this story isn't apparent until the end- Helene became a nun for what seemed like an altruistic reason, but something went terribly awry.

My main complaint with this story is that there's really not much buildup to the end- most of the story is just fluff about Helene's martyrdom and humility. The thing is, becoming a nun isn't something one should take lightly, as she seemed to. She resigned herself to it without a really good reason, though it's unclear what the timeframe was for her decision (I'm thinking it's set in the 1800s). Regardless, it was a choice that didn't make sense, but I'm sure it could've happened back in those days.

"The Luck of Ivan The Forgetful"
My favorite of the book, this story reads the most like a fairytale. Ivan the Forgetful escapes jail to stumble upon an orphaned girl in the forest. He tries his best to teach her right from wrong despite his seeming unsuitedness to parenthood. But will his luck run out?

There's lots of imagery and some minor anomalies in this story (I think it may be missing a page or a paragraph) but it captured my attention regardless. I think there's something more human about this story than the others, which may be why I like it so much. Ivan isn't a paragon, which many of the previous main characters appear to be. He's somewhat relatable, though the author tries to make him seem horrible by injecting out-of-character speech and deeds to impugn him. I guess in my eyes, the author didn't succeed in that.

I wish I could give Peasant Tales of Russia a higher rating, but there too are many issues that stick out for me to raise it. It may be an issue of translation or of time, but some of these tales which may have once been regarded as timeless seem to have lost some luster over the years. Nonetheless, I recommend it for those interested in Russian folk tales, as it is available in multiple formats online for free.

Rating: 3 of 5 Stars for a good collection of folk tales that could use some edits.

Content: Ages 14+ for violence and death.

Page Count: 112 pages in my Kindle edition

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