The Firebird and Other Tales

A rainy, windy day… a roaring fireplace… And a new novel using Russian myths by a superb writer. Sounds perfect to me!

Over on Sleeping Hedgehog recently, we looked at a most extraordinary website. In that post I noted that I had been been re-reading and immensely enjoying her Orphan’s Tales (In the Night Garden and In the Cities of Coin and Space) which I first read before I interviewed her for our edition that we ran when she was our Winter Queen — that writer being Catherynne Valente.

To really get a feel for her as a master storyteller, a selection titled ‘The Tea Maid and The Tailor’ from the first book of The Orphan’s Tales. It’s not quite as good as hearing her reading here our Robert Graves Memorial Reading Room, but it gives a superb feel for her voice as a storyteller.

Like all storytellers, she knows the value of reading the classic texts. I asked her in our conversation which version of A Thousand and One Nights she liked:

I prefer Hussein Haddawy’s translation — though the first one I ever read was the standard Burton version. My grandmother used to read it to me at night when I was a little girl, so for me, Arabian Nights has always been a thing of and between women. I do tend to prefer translations by native speakers rather than the invasive white colonial presentation.

Though Orphan’s Tales is explicitly riffing off the Arabian Nights, Valente has named but a few of her sources; the matter of goddesses such as Inanna, oracles, cities that are sexually transmitted, Arthurian myth, traditional Japanese myth, the Eddas, and now Russian myth in the form of the Firebird story.

Koschei the Deathless is to Russian folklore what storm giants or evil witches are to Western European culture: a menacing, throughly evil figure who is the villain of countless stories passed down for generations. Our reviewer says in his review that ‘Valente’s rich, rich prose balances the mood of a dark, fairytale world with the immersive detail a real fairytale would never have. She is equally deft when she writes of a starving, sickly Stalinist-era Leningrad.’

You can read an excerpt here. And I’ll be off in a corner of our Pub reading it as it sounds truly wonderful!

Our review can be found here.

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