Saturday 6 August 2022

Book Review: The Narrow Cage and Other Modern Fairy Tales by Vasily Eroshenko (Short Stories)

Title: The Narrow Cage and Other Modern Fairy Tales
Author: Vasily Eroshenko
Publisher: Columbia University Press
Publication Date: 7 March 2023
Pages: 306
Format: eBook - PDF
Genre: Short Stories
Source: ARC via NetGalley

Vasily Eroshenko was one of the most remarkable transnational literary figures of the early twentieth century: a blind multilingual Esperantist from Ukraine who joined left-wing circles in Japan and befriended the famous modernist writer Lu Xun in China. Born in a small Ukrainian village in imperial Russia, he was blinded at a young age by complications from measles. Seeking to escape the limitations imposed on the blind, Eroshenko became a globe-trotting storyteller. He was well known in Japan and China as a social activist and a popular writer of political fairy tales that drew comparisons to Hans Christian Andersen and Oscar Wilde.

The Narrow Cage and Other Modern Fairy Tales presents a selection of Eroshenko's stories, translated from Japanese and Esperanto, to English readers for the first time. These fables tell the stories of a religiously disillusioned fish, a jealous paper lantern, a scholarly young mouse, a captive tiger who seeks to liberate his fellow animals, and many more. They are at once inventive and politically charged experiments with the fairy tale genre and charming, lyrical stories that will captivate readers as much today as they did during Eroshenko's lifetime. In addition to eighteen fairy tales, the book includes semiautobiographical writings and prose poems that vividly evoke Eroshenko's life and world.


Before coming across this book, I had never heard of Vasily Eroshenko, so it was interesting to read a little about his life in the introduction before commencing the stories. It helped to place them in context of his experiences. The Narrow Cage and Other Modern Fairy Tales was a delightful collection of tales, each beautifully crafted and engaging with an thoughtful message and/or commentary on society. I enjoyed the tales penned in Japan more than those written in China, but that just came down to my personal preference for the style of those tales, and other readers may feel differently. Overall, though, this was a wonderful collection, nicely translated and well presented, and I recommend it to anyone interested in modern fairy tales and fantastical short stories. It gets 4.5 stars from me.

I received this book as a free eBook ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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