by & adapted by & illustrated by & translated by
Age Range: 8 & up
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 First, this is not Gogol's lengthy original--a ribald, satirical picture of village life in the Ukraine, a story that turns on peasant gullibility, takes anti-Semitism for granted (Gogol is also merciless toward women, and everyone else), and is as rich in pungent detail as Washington Irving's tales--a grand piece of social history that would surely be problematic out of context, by one of Russia's 19th-century masters. Now, this text: reduced to one-fifth, a faithful outline of most of the events, this American translation of a German adaptation for children reads well enough, but almost all of Gogol's vibrant tapestry of peasant life has vanished, along with so many details of plot and character that the truncated remnant is puzzling at best--it's not even clear that the devils here are figments of rural credulity. But Spirin's illustrations, evidently inspired by the full text, are splendid. Known for his lush, romantic paintings for fairy tales (most recently The White Cat, 1990), this Russian artist uses his considerable skill here to far more interesting effect. Swirling, Brueghel-like crowds of lusty peasants--some rendered in vivid hues and others, drained of color, in a cinematic haze--mix with half-fantastic pigs and devils that seem to protrude through rips in the parchment-like paper: superb, imaginative response to Gogol's earthy story. The two belong together (publisher, please note!); meanwhile, these illustrations are too good to miss. (Fiction/Picture book. 8+)

Pub Date: April 10th, 1991
ISBN: 0-87923-879-8
Page count: 26pp
Publisher: Godine
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1991


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