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  • The Fairy Tale Magazine

Book Review: The Narrow Cage & Other Modern Fairy Tales by Vasily Eroshenko

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!

You can find the book here.

Thank you to NetGalley for a free copy of the book in exchange for a fair review.

Kelly Jarvis is the Special Projects Writer and Contributing Editor for The Fairy Tale Magazine. Her work has appeared in Eternal Haunted Summer, Blue Heron Review, Forget-Me-Not Press, Mermaids Monthly, The Chamber Magazine, and Mothers of Enchantment: New Tales of Fairy Godmothers. She teaches at Central Connecticut State University.

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