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The Narrow Cage and Other Modern Fairy Tales

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Member Reviews

The Narrow Cage and Other Modern Fairy Tales was a collection of stories for sure, but it was also a small biography of a very interesting author.

I have received this book in exchange of an honest review, thank you to Columbia University Press and Netgalley for the opportunity.

Release date: 7th of March 2023.


I requested this book, or collection thinking that I'll be reading a few stories and that will be all that I take away with me. But, given the interesting addition of the biography, in a way, of Vasily Eroshenko, I find that his life is the one that got me to stay till the end.

It's not easy writing a book, collection or story as an able-bodied individual, but to be able to come up with several of them while being blind and going through the things that he did? That's just impressive. And easily, the main reason why I continued reading till the end.

I do know that my way of writing, may sound on the disappointed side, but that was not the case for the most part.

In clearer words, when an entire collection is written by the same person, it tends to mesh together for me after the first few. It happened in the anthology I read earlier this year by Sam J. Miller, and it has happened here again.

That in itself, is not something I consider bad given that my perception is going to be different to others, but I do consider it something that I like to avoid when reading anything. The silver lining here however, is that the stories are still very relevant and the pseudo fairy tale way they're being told can make it pretty accessible to most adults.

The few that stuck the most for me, were The Sad Little Fish, The Death of the Canary and The Narrow Cage. Although, I still consider his life story, to be the best The Narrow Cage and Other Modern Fairy Tales has to offer. I wouldn't have found out about him without this book however and that in itself, makes this collection of stories a very deserving read.
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This was a fascinating set of fairytales; I had never heard of Eroshenko before and the kind of work they did, but I think I will check them out more in the future because their life story is absolutely incredible. Quite a few of the fairytales are inspired by Asian aesthetics and mythology, but hold more Western ideologies at times--it's an interesting mix obviously inspired by the author's life. They're fairly accessible and easy to read, so I recommend it for anyone looking for a more contemporary slant on the genre.
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As it turns out, when you have a little known writer who was born blind in Russia, met an anarchist young, went to Japan, and ended up being a communist and blind activist in the Southeastern Asian region for most of his life, you get a hell of an interesting writer. When he turns his mind to some incredibly sarcastic fairy tales that are thinly veiled satires of society at large at that time, you get some fantastic fairy tales that will stick with you for a while post reading him. Definitely worth picking up.
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The Narrow Cage & Other Fairy Tales is half biography, half actual fairy tales. 

The book begins with a fascinating biography of the author, Vasily Eroshenko. I was not at all familiar with this interesting human, but honestly as many others have said, I would have almost read an entire book on his life and skipped out on the tales. 

That said, the tales themselves are short, but transcend time and are relevant today. 

I thoroughly enjoyed this book! I definitely wouldn’t have picked it up without the opportunity to do so from NetGalley!

Thank you to NetGalley and Columbia University Press for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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I really do love modern collections of fairytales, and even more so one that center on a non-Western culture. This collection really encapsulates all that is beautiful and terrible in the myths and folklore of many East Asian countries. I found myself wanting to read many of these over again just to see what else I would get from them on a second or third reread. 

Highly enjoyable, and a wonderful way to break up the monotony of the day, especially if you're not in the mood to dive into a really long, dense story/novel.
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The Narrow Cage is a great collection of fairy tales that feature Japanese landscapes. I really enjoyed the fresh take on traditional tales.
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Though Vasily Eroshenko wrote these stories long ago, this collection of fairytales is a fresh take on old ideas. Reminiscent of both Oscar Wilde's and Osamu Dazai's fairytales, these tales are politically charged while still balancing criticism and humor. A necessary addition to the modern fairytale library.
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Classique moral tales that will transport readers into an old Japan, folklore and the charm of a different area... the fact animals are the main characters of most of those short fables gives it a very specific charm, reminiscent of the children stories of Oscar Wilde. I really enjoyed the stories in this book, especially because I am very familiar with Japanese culture, and because the life of the writer is quite extraordinary. Those are translated tales, from Esperento, writen between 1915 and 1920 by a blind Japanese artist. They have a gentleness and cunning which is rare. If you are a fan of children stories in the classic sense, the ones that were meant to give a view on the world,. hold a twist that reveals a knowledge you should hold for your future, symbolism and the likes, I highly recommend this read. Eroshenko should be a known author and it is remarkable that we is finally translated.
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*I received an ARC via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks for the free book!*

What a fascinating collection of poems that a blind, Russian born, Esperanto / Japanese writing author, linguist, and teacher wrote when in Japan / China and inspired by the places. The stories are easy to get into, some have quite the exciting twist, others are more conventional or maybe I just didn't get them. Jack Zipes' foreword was also incredibly informative and the entire backstory was fascinating. Eroshenko lived quite the life!

4 stars
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Writing Style: 4 
Cover: 4
Enjoyment: 4
Buyable/Re-readable?: Yeah, I think so.

4.5 ★

"The present collection is intended to provide an overview of Eroshenko’s engagement with the fairy-tale form, with particular emphasis given to tales in which he employed subversive techniques and experimental prose styles to provoke and raise the political consciousness of his readers. Each tale has been selected for the various social and political injustices they highlight, the experimental techniques they exhibit, and the value they have as biographical or historical commentary."

Uh, why am I just now learning about this gem of a writer? This collection at times reminded me of 'After the Romanovs' book I read earlier this year, with the displacement/diaspora/exile. There are fables and the like in the first portion, and then we're treated to some tales from him directly in first person, covering experiences in China, Japan, and Russia. Strong messages in every piece, some of which didn't translate well for me, which was fine. I still enjoyed this; thoroughly. I would discuss it aloud with my husband whilst reading. 

Notes - 
⇉ He chose a mosquito??? D;  (In a tale titled 'The Martyr' and the little insect is just so endearing that I instantly loved them.)
⇉ Ch. 9 ;  I'm not crying, you're crying. 
⇉ Ch. 16 ; Seems akin to the oppression of religion and those rising up to defy it, despite warnings (ex: homosexuality means Hell even though, supposedly, "God loves all").
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Netgalley gave me an ARC of this selection of short stories by Vasily Eroshenko. The story of the man himself is interesting enough to make this a rewarding experience. His politically charged fables and tales make for an interesting read and an informative perspective on the life of an knowledgeable and well-travelled man at such an unstable time in his world and putting in contrast anarchism, communism, China, Russia and Japan. Most of the stories are quick and quite enjoyable, only a couple are somewhat boring to get through. Eroshenko feels sometimes like an idealist, at others forcing or faking some ingenuity, both of these being quite original qualities when considering the usual classic and well known russian speaking authors.
All in all, this is worth a read for those with a special interest in Esperantism, left-wing writing of the early twentieth century or east european and asian history.
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This is a book that's hard to review because it was written in such a specific (and different) context. Learning about the author and his life was interesting and certainly informed my reading of the stories, but ultimately I found the preface giving that information more enjoyable than the stories themselves. Vasily Eroshenko is a remarkable person with a fascinating life, and his stories are certainly valuable in terms of the what they reflect about the history of early 20th century Russia/Ukraine, Japan, and China. However, absent that context, the stories themselves feel unremarkable. They are clearly fairy tales, but very dark ones that are meant as scathing political allegories. The symbolism in the stories is either so blatant it feels crass (as in the stories where believers in Christianity are killed by the cruel and misguided Christians) or so tied to the context that, even having read the foreword, I'm not really sure what he's taking aim at.

Ultimately, I think this collection is valuable, but its value is primarily historical rather than literary, which is the opposite of what I was hoping for; perhaps that reflects more on me than it does the collection.
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For once I kind of stepped away from reviewing these admittedly academe-bound books from my humble general browser point of view, and looked at things from another angle.  For over the past year I have become a keen spoken word storyteller, and found the idea of semi-lost, political fairy tales from the 1920s right up my street.  The fact I only found one work here worth cribbing from is a personal disappointment, but at the same time I think the general browser would likewise not particularly regret her or his time with this, but not find too much to love.

The best story here, for one, is that of the author – blinded due to measles as a four year old, he became a multi-nationalist and socialist, hating the authority his blind school forced on him that he could so easily see through, learnt Esperanto – as many people of the time did, apparently, for its woke, anti-colonialist global vocab, tried his best at being a musician, then became a teacher and literature specialist – while dropping into one or two competitive blind players' chess tournaments.  That and a couple of times when he was deported made his biography a rich thing indeed.

We get that from a nicely spoiler-free introduction, before the stories.  And they certainly start out as fairy tales, although not specifically for young audiences whatsoever.  Sometimes the politics are drummed into you, others – such as the tale I told publicly, of eagle princes swapped for human children – it's more gentle.  But the majority of cases are not exactly the Brothers Grimm, and many are too obtuse, weird and wacky for general populist approval.

I know, these books are not seeking populist approval, but the genre here would gain more attention than most in this imprint, and as long as I can see them I will consider them alongside all I can give them – a blokey, populist look.  And the later chunks of this, featuring some inherently skippable fairy tales, and more autobiographical, showing-the-range-of-the-man pieces, remain readable and yet essential reading in very few minds.  While this contains the type of story very, very few people will have encountered before these pages, their general reading appeal is debatable.  The academic attributes this volume has, and its filling in a gap for a long-forgotten author, are once again most admirable.
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I am a fan of fiction that prompts me to analyze society and its many woes. I am not, however, a fan of fiction that blatantly inserts the authors opinion into their story, robbing me of the opportunity to come to my own conclusions. 
Eroshenko literally spells things out for you, sometimes added at the end of a story where he tells you what it meant, and all stemming from his anarchist views. And I use the word "anarchist" because that is how he is described in the introduction. That being the case, it was rather difficult to enjoy these "modern fairy tales." 
I hope this falls into the right hands after its pub date.

Thank you to NetGalley and Columbia University Press for this ARC in exchange for my honest review.
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The Narrow Cage and Other Modern Fairy Tales is a beautiful collection of stories written by a social activist who urges radical transformation. Vasily Eroshenko was a blind Ukrainian writer who adopted Japan and China as his home during the political turbulence of the early 20th century. Renowned fairy tale scholar Jack Zipes explains in his foreword that Eroshenko uses an experimental prose style to expose the racism and hypocrisy at the core of western civilization. Taken together, the fairy tales in this collection provide a message of hope and transformation. 

I loved this collection of fairy tales. The writer, who lost his sight during his childhood, fills the tales with beautiful images like gold and silver butterflies and a setting sun that looks like “a purple shipwreck on the horizon”. The collection, which is divided into Japanese and Chinese tales, is permeated with characters who are physically or metaphorically blind, and many of the stories feature characters who try to escape the cages which confine them. In the title story, a tiger dreams of freeing animals who are fenced into pastures and people who are imprisoned in palaces, but each is a slave of man and is afraid of freedom. Other stories illustrate the common fate of the rich and poor who wait while Death, “drunk on the fragrance of spring”, stalks the halls of the hospital wearing her long white veil. 

My favorite stories explore the depths of true love. One features a goldfish and firefly who fall deeply in love and sacrifice their coveted scales and wings for one another when they are captured and placed into a bowl and a cage. Another, “The Tale of the Paper Lantern”, reads “she lit me with her love and lined me with the words I love you only. Indeed, her love was life itself, and brightly did I shine by it”. 

The collection is also full of sadness; a scholarly young mouse who reads the books lining a politician’s shelves meets a terrible fate at the hands of a cat, a woman raises a baby she finds abandoned in a grove of pines, and a tree stands witness to human joy and pain as its young leaves sing hymns to the sun, the night, and the stars. Beneath this heart wrenching melancholy is a strain of hope that beautiful stories can save the world. The Narrow Cage and Other Modern Fairy Tales is the kind of collection that can be read over and over. It is a wonderful complement to traditional fairy tales. Highly recommend to all who are interested in the power and beauty of storytelling!

Thank you to NetGalley for a free copy of the book in exchange for a fair review.
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thank you to netgalley for providing me with an arc! 

the narrow cage and other modern fairy tales is a collection of short stories that are beautiful to read. they almost reminded me of some of kafka's short stories as they were both parts whimsical and a little scary. eroshenko writes mainly about humanity - albeit through a little bit of cynical lense. most of his stories are narrated through the voice of animals or inanimate objects, and from these narrators we see a harder, colder version of humankind - one that is heavily critiqued by eroshenko thoughout. however, there are many instances of hope within these stories, coming mainly in the form of the youth. this collection was a pleasure to read and has really made me want to expand my reading range!
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What a lovely read this is. The Narrow Cage and Other Fairy Tales are short stories, fables that make you .ponder thing an about humanity and the human condition. Very easy to read each one
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This incredible collection of Japanese and Chinese folk tales is full of profound tales I've never heard before. The enigmatic author has translated these works beautifully. I am far more familiar with Western fairy tales and fables, so these were all new to my eyes. Some were quite depressing, in particular a tragic story about a sad carp fish becoming disillusioned with organized religion. I highly recommend this book to not only those with an academic interest but to anyone with an appreciation for great stories.
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These may be masterpieces but the tales here were mostly just boring to me, and the turgid introduction and scholarly apparatus doesn't help. For specialists only.
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A blind man looks forward to a red revolution, but he cannot see that the only red waiting beyond it is a sea of blood. 

I had never heard of Vasily Eroshenko before discovering this book. He was an interesting man; I detest him, but nonetheless. Born in 1890 and blinded by measles as a child (this was before vaccines), he attended a school for the blind and became a violinist. But it wasn't long afterward that he found his true love: Esperanto.

Mastering the language and taking advantage of the Esperantist communities around the globe, Eroshenko traveled for the first part of his adulthood, going first to Europe, then to Japan, then traveling to other Asian countries, returning to Japan, being deported to Russia, being turned away from Russia, ending up in China - and so on, until he finally settled in the USSR.

"Wait, what's that about deportation and being turned away from Russia?", I hear you ask. Well, he was a political activist of a sort nobody likes: a bit of a communist, a lot of an anarchist, hateful of everyone except idealized groups.

It shows in the stories in this volume: he has a quarrel to pick with religion, the rich, the socialists. He distrusts anyone who holds power, that is, and hopes for it to return to the hands of the poor people with pure hearts. Which is a very nice wish; but the world doesn't work that way.

Fables do work on a more idealist level, however, so the stories are decent. Here, let me recount one, though Eroshenko's telling of it surpases my own. There is a kingdom where Cold and Darkness rule and their evil children rule the land. People are forbidden from heating their homes or even lighting candles. There is a tale that says that the sun rising could help them all, but the sun never rises. But one day, Hope (a foreigner and much distrusted) arrives in the kingdom and says that the way to bring the sun is simple: a red flower must bloom. The seeds of the red flower are easy to find, however - but they need heat and light to bloom, alas, and in the absence of the sun, what can be done? So young men tear open their chests and plant the seeds in their own hearts, so the flowers bloom and the sun rises; but the men who brought it never see it, for they've given their lives to the flowers.

That's very nice. The red flower is the (communist) revolution, of course. The sun is a better tomorrow, with all the happiness, joy and bounty it will bring; except in order to bring it, dreams have to die fighting to make it happen. Which is what happened in Russia, except that blood flowed, many people were oppressed, and... well, communist regimes deserve to be studied as a horror of their own.

In a later tale, Eroshenko "dreams" of a young man who goes to bring the red flower to the people desperate to have it so it will bring them joy, but he brings back a white flower, which is only dyed red, or reddened with blood. It's a false red flower, that he had mistaken for the red one.

The white Russians, of course, were the tzarist forces who opposed the revolutionary red Russians. When Eroshenko sees the result of the revolution, he notices it's the same old, same old oppresive shtick. It hasn't changed a thing, the old gods are still there as before. At heart, he's one with all those who claim communism has never been *truly* tried, I suppose; without seeing that maybe there's something wrong with the sort of revolution he wanted.

Some stories are perhaps less politically charged. Some I found confusing (did the surgeon kill his child? is the child the dog now? is the dog the child? is anyone a ghost? was it all about baseless rumours? what). 

I liked "The Narrow Cage and Other Modern Fairy Tales" because it's an interesting snapshot from a hundred years ago. It brings to light the hopes of communism; but it also says something about what the public would have read back then. Eroshenko's autobiographical bits towards the end draw attention to a part of history rarely mentioned (Vladivostok occupied by the Japanese and the White Russians still there). The introduction is amazingly helpful and the translation is very fluent and pleasant to read.

As far as the stories themselves go, however... I'm not impressed. Maybe it's the fact that it's 100 years and too many communist regimes later to be able to read them without a background of political criticism slowly churning through my mind.
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