Well-chosen and finely rendered into lithe and flowing English, on occasion gingerly dipping into flavorful archaisms and the vernacular but otherwise staying entirely modern and always faithful to the original, the selection of the newly translated Russian fairy tales from Alexander Afanasyev's collection is indispensable to anyone interested in Russian literature, language and culture.
The collection's translator, Sergey Levchin in his substantive introduction to the volume touches on a number of important issues, such as the genealogy of folktales, their structure, their place within the context of the world's mythology, as well as their influence on 19th and 20th century Russian authors. The latter point is hard to overemphasize. Indeed, it wouldn't be a wild flight of fancy to imagine that Russian fairy tales were probably the first narratives ever absorbed by Russia's 19th century literary giants, as well as their 20th century heirs. Thus, the folktales in question most likely made their early and indelible mark upon the would-be authors' psyches and consequently determined their basic predilections as readers, and eventually, as writes. Think the treepartite familial structure of Dostoevsky's The Karamazov Brothers, or Chekhov's The Three Sisters, or Chichikov, the archetypal scheming errant traveler in Gogol's The Dead Souls, or Bulgakov's characters' run-ins with the Devil visiting Moscow in the 20th century classic novel The Master and Margarita - the cited examples all hark back to the tried and true structures and themes of Russian folk tales replete with shape-shifters, multifarious incarnations of the forces of evil, travelers in the underworld and the underdog do-gooders who, having paid their dues, eventually get their reward, be it the princess, the riches, the worry free life, or all of the above.
Upon reading the dual-language edition of Alexander Afanasyev's folktales which will now enjoy the new life in Sergey Levchin's deft and inventive translation, this reader was rewarded in more ways than could be told in a brief review. Not the least of which were the delight of encountering the old childhood friends all over again: the Firebird, Vasilisa, Ivan Tsarevich, the Hut standing on chicken legs, and many others; the thrill of retracing own steps as a reader of Russian tales in the original many decades ago; and lastly, a vicarious sense of joy for the new readers who will experience the whimsical world of Russian fairy tales for the first time.