62. Legend of an Iron Tower and Other Fables... by Natalia Dobzhanska

Legend of an Iron Tower and Other Fables... by Natalia Dobzhanska. Translated from the Ukraine by Natalia Dobzhanska and Alan Knight (4/5)

2012, Knight Publishing Company, Kindle Edition, 154 pages
Purchased when offered as a freebie

(Kindle) Only

"A Book of seventeen original stories about dreams and losses, pride and forgiveness, fear and sacrifice, misery and hope…. In most of the stories the heroes undergo personal conflicts... a man has no face of his own, an inventor finds a pair of boots left just for potential suicides, an angel comes to Earth with the secret wish to save humankind, a man feeds a dragon that lives inside him, a mother prays to God to give her daughter a special gift... a knight without fear or doubt ignores an ancient prophesy, a mysterious clown comes to a sad princess to make her merry, a Cloud is perpetually disappointed with the Sun whom she loves… Eight of the stories were first published in the author’s prize-winning 2007 book, «Хроніки пустелі» (“Chronicles of a Desert”), in the original Ukrainian."

This is a pure gem that I am thrilled to have found.  I am fond of reading fairy tales and folktales and last year I started sampling Russian Orthodox tales so this collection of fables coming from a Ukrainian author highly appealed to me.  I was not disappointed in the least.  I only wish the author had included a note to let us know whether these were her own original stories or whether they were based on or retellings of traditional tales.  The tales are very authentic in their storytelling and highly Christian, most likely Catholic, than Orthodox, from what I know of Ukrainian heritage, but that is only my guess.  My only complaint with the writing is the author has a penchant for an extreme overuse of the punctuation mark the ellipsis (...); throwing those three dots at the ends of sentences willy-nilly multiple times throughout every single story.  That annoyed the heck out of the grammarian in me but the stories themselves were a pure pleasure to read.  Most certainly aimed at the adult reader with an emphasis on everlasting life without being theological or didactic.

1. The Carrier - Promising start to this collection.  A heartwarming modern-day tale of a man whose entire life is "grey" and he decides to give it all up.  He has an encounter/dream with the Big Unknown One and agrees to be put to tests to become a carrier of joy.  What follows is a Job-like story of troubles and wretchedness that bring the man down to a state where he can appreciate the clouds and grass. Then things turn around and a well-lived life has been lived by the end.  Touching. (4/5)

2. Legend of a Sea and a Cliff - An original folktale about the battle between the Sea and a Cliff.  They both pray to the Fire Star for a son/daughter who continue their battle for them.  A delightful piece of writing styled after ancient folktales which at it's heart is about suffering, love and the giving of yourself for the sake of the other(s). (5/5)

3. Together - A haunting story of love 'till death do us part'.  But even past death as the families have been united in Christ through the ceremony of Godparents.  Beautiful story of two lovely children who die, but upon their births they had neighbouring trees planted.  These trees symbolize the love and everlasting life of the children, forever and ever, amen. Melancholy, with much symbolism: forbidden fruit, tree of life, etc. but beautiful.  I am enjoying Dobzhanska's literary style of writing.  (5/5)

4. A Wrapper - a delightful fable about a candy wrapper who is haughty and prideful sitting in the candyshop window with the most expensive chocolates in the shop.  It takes a literal fall for her to end up as litter squashed in the mud under someone's heel until she becomes humble, appreciates life's simple pleasures and ends up in a beautiful place.  (4/5)

5. Boots for the Refuse Collector - This one was a bit heavy handed and over-the-top.  A troll hands out shoes to those who would commit suicide. End of the troll.  The main character is an artist who collects bits of garbage to use someday in his big mixed-media paintings.  He's done two so far in his life and no one has shown any interest, including his fellow artists.  He's a gloomy, melancholy man with worn out shoes when he finds and puts on the shiny new black boots.  He eventually dies and is taken round to the hospital, his body anyway.  The rest of him walks around becoming fainter to the world until he's almost invisible.  There is a happy ending but I didn't much enjoy this story. (2.5/5)

6. Lilac - A beautiful fairy tale of a knight and a fair maiden; of war, dark magic, charms and curses. This story was somewhat longer than the others and followed several consecutive mini-plots.  The ultimate theme is the greatest love is that which one is willing to give their life for others.  The Christian symbols are the "Heavenly Mother" and the "Resurrection" tree.  A lovely tale of two selfless people in love.  (5/5)

7. A Hunchback - Lovely little story!  A contented hunchback has a dream which he thinks is prophetic but it leads to a life of misery.  Once he gives up his hate and hard-hearted ways he finds the joy of everlasting life. (4/5)

8. The Gift - A modern story of a couple who has wanted a child for years and later in life are blessed with an only girl.  They think she is wonderful and special and treat her to everything she could possibly ever want.  When kindergarten comes around the mother is dismayed that no one there thinks her daughter is extremely special; they treat her just like a normal child.  After much heartache mom prays and prays to God to make her daughter truly special to the world, she asks for beauty, something no one else has.  So one morning the girl wakes up with real silver hair; she becomes special to the world at large and fame and fortune follow but not happiness.  God's lesson to the mother is to be careful what you pray for, what result are you truly looking for?  Cute story but not on the same par as others.  (3/5)

9. Re-Lig (Angel Incarnate) - My favourite story so far and probably will be of the whole book!  This is a longer story and so, so beautiful.  The story has so many layers I couldn't do it justice to try and explain but it is a decidedly Christian tale.  After Jesus returns to Heaven the angels wonder if they could go to earth as part man and help man out better that way.  After a council with God an angel steps forward and God sends him down as a baby to live the life of a man but he has a silver thread sewn down his soul dividing his angel self from his human self.  His human self knows nothing of the arrangement while the angel has no way of communicating with his other self.  Hard to describe here but it works wonderfully.  On his way down the angel immediately knows that he will not be able to do what Jesus did and accepting that limitation he tries to help his man self help other men but temptation is so strong.  The Temptor has much in store for him but thankfully he has God to love him everyday.  But what happens when the Temptor asks God to follow His word according to the Book of Job is more than the Angel can handle.  Absolutely stunning story!  (5/5)

10. Story of a Little Girl and a Fairy-Tale Castle - A typical fairytale of a modern little girl who has an adventure through the woods arriving at a castle to play with fairies.  She brings home a musical instrument which brings the fairies to her, but alas, she grows up and looses the magic.  A pretty tale about getting down and seeing things from the level of a child.  (3/5)

11. The Man in Whom a Dragon Lived - Another fairy tale which felt as if it could be set in modern times though we are mostly inside this man's dreams.  As a young boy his pet rat escapes the apartment and is mauled by the neighbour's cat. The next day he takes the cat to a lot full of stray mutts and the neighbour is later taken to retrieve her cat's body but no one knows the boy was involved.  At this point a small dragon entered into the heart/soul of the boy.  It grew with him into manhood, needed feeding, it's fire made him angry, rude, ignorant, unhappy and at some point he became aware of the dragon.  Needless to say the man finds a dragonslayer in his dreams but he won't help him.  A redeeming story follows as the man learns that we must deal with our own demons, that by feeding them and constantly giving them our attention helps them to grow.  A bit of a quick ending but an intelligent, entertaining story. (3/5)

12. Legend of a River and Desert Wind - In the same vein as the story about the cliff and the ocean, this is a beautiful fairy tale in which the river and the wind battle fiercely against each other.  This is a long story with both complete stories that serve as a lead-up and follow-through to the middle epiphany when a small voice from a little star tells them that Love is the answer; God is Love; and two are better than one.  A pretty story on the surface but a deep one when the messages are considered.  (4/5)

13. The Man Who Had No Face of His Own - This is a very short story compared to the others. A man always acts like other people and so looks like them, never having a true self until one day after he has led a riches to rags life he is told to aspire to be like God, then he will look like God.  But he dies and meets God, and then it is time to be judged.  Not as good as the other stories. (2.5/5)

14. Ballad of a Sad Princess - Another charming fairytale. This one may actually be based on an old folksong as the text of the song is presented at the end.  This is the story of three people (their tales told sequentially, three very sad people; first a disheartened young man with a fatal disease, then a very sad princess and finally a brutish, angry knight.  Each one learns through the previous one how to love and that life is full of joy (not joy of anything in particular) but simply in the joy of creation and the joy of being.  This leads to the joy of living and realizing the greatest joy of life is "going home" to join God.  Guardian angels become a major theme here as well.  A well told-tale that leaves us with a feeling this may have roots in a traditional folktale.  (5/5)

15. Poem of a Cloud and the Sun - Once again we are brought a tale which personifies the elements; this time the sun and a cloud.  Sun takes on the wise master role while little cloud follows him because she loves him so much but when she eagerly asks him if he loves her in return the sun says yes he loves her, he can love and he shines his love down on all things good and evil.  Cloud can never quite grasp this and every so often gets grumpy fills up with rain/snow, etc and lets it loose until she has disintegrated into the sea, the ground, the snow.  But Sun always comes back with his heat to absorb her up into her former cloud glory again and so it shall be forever and ever with opposites attracting as they are "destined to be together".  Cute and I get the message but not as powerful as other stories (3/5)

16. Legend of an Iron Tower - This is the story from which this book gets its title.  Usually in such collections these titular stories come first but I`m glad this didn't as it didn't really do much for me.  A story of a knight in a land of peace, one who has never known war and the only thing he can find to fight against is a feared tower of iron.  Headless of the prophecy surrounding the tower`s demise and goaded on by an old woman, he sets off on his quest.  A story with a message but not as profound as previous ones.  (3/5)

17. Doors - A splendid fable to end this collection with.  A man is on a deserted island with no memory of his past life, seeming as if he's been there always.  He's content but eventually he wants more, some thing is missing that is eluding his being happy.  Events occur and he is left with many doors to open to find his happiness.  It takes much time and many doors for him to endure sickness, trials, tribulations, discomfort and states just shy of happiness before he runs out of doors and learns what true happiness is.  Splendid!  (5/5)


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