Five Tales

Nikolay Leskov, in whom his contemporary Leo Tolstoy could find no fault other than that he had ‘too much talent’, is the most perfectly Russian writer of the nineteenth century. His tales, told with enormous zest, never for a moment relaxing their hold on the reader’s attention, raise anecdote to art. Leskov conveys a unique and memorable image of the Russia he knew – wayward, undisciplined, anarchic, violent and perverse, yet underpinned by a profound spirituality and sense of national identity. This selection of short works – none available in English for many years, and two of them never previously translated – captures Leskov’s rumbustious humour at its best, together with his hilarious yet sensitive examination of Russian attitudes. In particular it highlights the fascinating contrasts he detected between the spirit of Russia and the mores and culture of her West European neighbours. The longest tale in the volume, An Iron Will, measures a feckless Russian iron-founder against an imported Prussian engineer; its epigraph is ‘Rust eats iron’. The other tales colourfully portray the author’s countrymen’s mystic and majestic urge towards the best and worst extremes of human behaviour.

Out of print

‘If you want to understand the Russians, read Leskov.’ – Mikhail Gorbachev

‘The translator has acquitted himself admirably – the translations never read like translations.’ – Gordon McVay, Times Higher Education Supplement