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The Wild Beast by Nikolai Leskov
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The Wild Beast

by Nikolai Leskov

Other authors: Harold Berson (Illustrator), Guy Daniels (Translator)

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Overshadowed by contemporaries such as Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, Nikolai Leskov was a nineteenth-century Russian author best known for shorter fiction like The Enchanted Wanderer and Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. Not being very well-versed in Russian literature, I had never before encountered his work when I picked up The Wild Beast - which is presented as an illustrated story for children.

But although it is narrated by a young boy, I am not entirely sure that it is meant for children. Then again, it is entirely possible that I have simply been influenced in this by my own cultural ideas of what is "suitable" for younger readers. Whatever the case may be, I can say that I am profoundly grateful that I did NOT read this as a child, as I think I would have been terribly wounded by the cruelty shown to the captive bear Sganarelle, and, knowing my earnest younger self, would have brooded on it for years. As it is, I know I will not soon forget the almost overwhelming sense of sadness that gripped me while reading The Wild Beast, or the terrible pity I felt for Sganarelle and his human keeper, Ferrapont/Hrapon.

Set on a great Russian estate in the early part of the nineteenth-century, before serfdom had been abolished, this is the tale of a hard master - the narrator's uncle - who does not believe in mercy, for either man or beast. When the trained bear Sganarelle is caught killing livestock and mauling people, he is condemned to death by bear-baiting, and Ferrapont, a former French prisoner-of-war reduced to slavery, is ordered to participate in the killing of the creature he loves best in all the world...

A powerful story, of man's cruelty, both to his fellow man and to "God's other creatures," this unforgettable story is also a tale of redemption, and of a change of heart. But for all its nominal "happy ending," somehow I suspect that it is the cruelty and stupidity of man's dealings with the natural world than will haunt me. ( )
  AbigailAdams26 | Jul 15, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Nikolai Leskovprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Berson, HaroldIllustratorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Daniels, GuyTranslatorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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