James Riordan,
Russian Gypsy Tales
(Interlink, 1992)

There's a place on Earth where Satan can be tricked, Jesus owes the people a favor, saints are ripe sources for bait-and-switch and God smiles on thievery with a wink and a bargain. This roving place and its people have strong holds on our imaginations, with images of romance, danger and rebellious rogues. James Riordan brings their stories to gem-like brightness in Russian Gypsy Tales, transporting the reader down the Long Road to mysterious places while providing a rare view into the sequestered world of the gypsies.

Thankfully, Riordan avoids the academic pitfalls that often accompany folklore collections. He balances intelligibility with an authentic voice and a fun tone, without the stilted flow and poor writing of overly-literal translations. And he also avoids extensive analysis and commentary. In fact, except for a brief introduction, he lets his translations of Yefim Druts' and Alexei Gessler's collected stories stand on their own. And with tales like this, they don't need any help.

By the end of Russian Gypsy Tales I had that rich and rare feeling of having discovered another place and another people, a people that hold fascinating views of the universe and their place in it. Nothing about the gypsies was as I expected, but I'll let you wander into their world on your own. Just be sure to keep your bargains and make sure that, if you ask the Queen of Hearts to tell your fate, you ask her permission before you leave.

- Rambles
written by Tracie Vida
published 28 August 2004



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