As stated in the intro to this slim volume, LATVIAN FOLKTALES is a love-letter to the little-known and even lesser appreciated culture of Latvia. Situated along the Baltic Sea, Latvia has long been the plaything of bigger powers. First, the native Balts were subjected to Viking (predominantly Swedish) overlordship. Then came the Germans and the Teutonic Knights, who converted the pagan Balts to Christianity. German landowners established plantations worked by Latvians, who were treated as second-class serfs in their own country. This situation remained in place when the Baltic nations belonged to the Russian Empire. It briefly let up following national independence in 1919, but this liberty was replaced by an even rougher tyranny under the Soviet Union.
LATVIAN FOLKTALES serves as a reminder about the travails of Latvia’s history. These stories are brief, but colorful illustrations of the lost pagan culture of Latvia—a culture deeply entwined with nature and ancient gods who felt close to humanity. Each folktale retold here by authors Astrida Barbins-Stahnke and Carma Stahnke contains a powerful moral lesson told through the familiar mechanism of animal tales and country tall tales. Take for instance my personal favorite story, “The Small Animal War.” In the story, dog and fox get into a heated argument about who has the tougher friends. Fox invokes his friends, the bear and the boar. As for dog, he lists the horse and the bull. The pair argue until they agree to settle things with a battle royale. The problem for dog is that his friends cannot take time off from the farm to engage in combat. So, with his back against the wall, dog taps his other friends, the cat and the rooster. Although not as fearsome or strong as the fox, bear, and the boar, the dog, the cat, and the rooster win the day through a sound strategy. The lesson: all creatures, big and small, have a powerful role to play.
LATVIAN FOLKTALES is full of such heart-warming tales. These stories are sure to please children and adults alike, especially those interested in learning more about Latvia and the general culture of far northeastern Europe. If nothing else, LATVIAN FOLKTALES serves as a reminder about why stories are so important to culture, and why all cultures are worth preserving.
LATVIAN FOLKTALES is a fun, easy-to-read, and cozy compilation of ancient folktales from the Baltic. Here, in several different yarns, the majesty and mystery of nature are underlined for all ages alongside fantastic illustrations.
~Benjamin Welton for IndieReader