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19 November 2018

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The Complete Folktales of A.N. Afanas’ev (Vol. 1)

Edited by Jack V. Haney
(Univ. Press of Miss., $60)

This is but the first volume in a monumental compendium of Afanasyev’s Russian folktales. And, as Haney explains, Afanasyev’s is not only the largest single collection of Russian tales, it may be “the largest collection of any one people’s folktales by a single editor and collector.”

The tales, being translated here in their entirety to English for the first time, benefit from the voice of a single translator, and Haney relates them in that quirky, matter-of-fact tone that gives them a special edge or humor. Like any folktales, the story lines are often bizarre and grotesque, building exaggeration upon unbelievable incidents, and, unlike with Aesop, the reader is left to draw their own conclusions about heroism, beauty, honesty and “great feats.”

The price may put this book out of reach for many, but it will surely be snapped up by university libraries, and perhaps the curious reader can visit a copy there.

— Paul E. Richardson

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Reviewed in Russian Life: May/June 2015