Archive for the ‘fairy tales’ Tag

A fairy tale’s heroine   1 comment











The Bear and the Nightingale is Katherine Arden’s debut novel, which
blends a familiar theme in the guise of a Russian folktale.

While this is more fantasy than classic Russian literature, the author does rely                                              on its characteristics, such as the patriarchal society and descriptions of                                                medieval Russia.

Vasya, whose mother died in childbirth, is a rebellious young girl; which
intensifies as she grows older. Yet, she’s sensitive to the world around her,
particularly aspects others either can’t or won’t acknowledge. This includes
woodland apparitions, water nymphs and household spirits.

Vasya’s father remarries and brings his young, extremely religious wife,
Anna, to his home in a remote village near the forest’s edge. Despite her pious
devotion, she is a malicious stepmother. She forbids the family from honoring
or acknowledging their household spirits. This, and the arrival of a priest who
supports Anna, ensures the family and villagers will endure bad luck.

The novel isn’t initially engaging, but gains momentum as Arden’s writing
becomes more vivid and her characters more fully developed. The harsh winter is
a significant element of the narrative.

The title is derived from the combating attributes of the woodland folklore
creatures and Vasya’s ultimate role with them.

It’s necessary to suspend disbelief and remind oneself that fear and joy are
part of fairy tales. This helps in recognizing the absence of nuance: there is
evil or good; magic or reality; but always a surprise.

The Bear and the Nightingale

Almost Four bookmarks

Del Ray, 2017

333 pages (includes glossary of Russian terms, Reader’s Guide and author


In the Eye of the Beholder   Leave a comment


The first sentence in Eka Kurniawan epic, Beauty is a Wound, is a doozy: “One afternoon on a weekend in March, Dewi Ayu rose from her grave after being dead for twenty-one years.” It sets the perfect-wtf-tone for the entire novel.

Set in Indonesia, the narrative combines elements of the island nation’s history with folk lore, superstition, mystery and love. It’s farfetched in scope and captivating in its depiction of a myriad of characters.

Dewi Ayu is of Dutch heritage and her beauty is renowned throughout the island. Her story includes her childhood, survival during the Japanese occupation and eventual career path as a prostitute. She has three daughters whose beauty is also the stuff of legends and a third daughter, whose appearance is so repulsive that out of consideration for others,  keeps herself hidden. Also, because of Dewi Ayg’s exquisite looks, she a very popular lady of the night.

Ironically, the ugly daughter is named Beauty.

At times it’s difficult keeping track of who’s who, which political regime is in power and who’s a spirit or not. The effort is worth it. Kurniawan jostles back and fourth among characters and time frames as he tells Dewi Ayu’s story.

Many of the subplots are like fairy tales. They are easy to get caught up in before the author reveals the connections each element has to another. Don’t expect a happily-ever-after outcome, but do be prepared for an engaging, if often exaggerated, explanation of how a woman suddenly is among the living again.

Beauty is a Wound
Four Bookmarks
New Directions Paperback, 2015 (translated edition by Annie Tucker)
470 pages

Family Fairy Tales   1 comment


Often, stories within stories are enchanting, muddled, lopsided or boring. Fortunately, Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah is captivating without any confusion. One narrative is not more interesting than the other; both have equal appeal.

Much of what makes Hannah’s novel so successful is the clever way in which her characters evolve. Sisters Meredith and Nina are grown women who have always basked in the light of their father’s love. Meredith is the older sister, pragmatic and harried; Nina lives the adventurous life of a freelance photographer. Theirs is not a close a relationship. If not for Evan, their father, there would be little for anyone in the family to hold dear.

Unlike Evan, their mother is a cold, distant woman incapable of showing or articulating affection. This could be a black and white story, but Hannah has enough sense, and talent, to show the nuances. A secret past, painful memories and the harsh reality of war culminate in a fairy tale the sisters’ mother is ultimately compelled to tell. The story moves from the idyllic, contemporary life on the family’s apple orchard to cold, war-torn Russia. Like any good fairy tale, this one begins with a handsome prince, an evil overseer, and a young girl who falls in love.

As the fairy tale evolves, it’s clear this the only way the mother can explain herself and for her daughters to recognize their own strengths, weaknesses and connections. There’s nothing jumbled in either side of Hannah’s engaging account.

Winter Garden
Four Bookmarks
St. Martin’s Griffin, 2010
391 pages