THE CUNNING LITTLE VIXEN by Rudolf Tesnohlidek
Kirkus Star


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Oddly, Tesnohlidek's classic, circa 1920, to which Janacek's great opera of the same name is quite faithful, has until now never seen translation out of the original Czech; the opera had been the guardian of its fame. Fitted to this eventful English edition are production designs done for the opera by Maurice Sendak (the original, which was first published as a newspaper serial, also was illustrated). Yet the novel is so special that it doesn't absolutely need them: it has its own biting colors aplenty. It's a fable which (with its parochial references to Czech political life at the time) at first bears some resemblance to Orwell's pessismistic Animal Farm. Sharp-Ears is the name of the little female fox captured by a drunken forester and intended as a penitential gift to the forester's angry wife after a wild night on the town. Vixen Sharp-Ears, however, is no passive victim; her revenge on the forester's family and home will include plunder, escape, and return for more plunder--all conducted within a society of wild and domesticated animals as intelligent as the humans, and maybe more so. It's here where Orwell's allegory and Tesnohlidek's part ways: the animals here do not illustrate the distortions of human behavior--if anything, it's the other way around. The forester might only wish he were as sensitive, for instance, as his dachshund charger, who early on befriends Sharp-Ears and admits ""that he'd never been in love and did not even know what love is. He claimed he'd devoted his life to the arts and at night he sang melancholy songs he himself had composed."" And no gross human nearly approaches Sharp-Ears' realism, her feminine modesty, her sadness, her boldness. In best Middle European melancholic/comic style, she's the ultimate survivor, never to be underestimated. Masterpieces of 20th-century Czech writing always have a graceful, waltz-like mordancy, and it's in every sentence here. One of the rare adult fictions as literally enchanting as a children's book (and it knows it, too)--yet always with a deeper, drier resonance of knowledge and experience.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1985
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux