Literature Review: Colourful Tales

 Līga Horgana is back with a literature review of Colourful Tales written and by Imants Ziedonis and translated by Elīna Brasliņa.

This collection of 11 fairy tales by Imants Ziedonis was first published in 1973. With its rich language and continued thematic relevance, it has managed to stay a part of school curriculum as well as in readers’ hearts as some of the best known and most beloved fairy tales in Latvian literature. A 2017 English language translation of Colourful Tales by Ieva Lešinska was published by Jumava in 2017 with the support of Ziedonis’ fund “Viegi”.

Imants Ziedonis (1933-2013) was one of the most adored Latvian poets, whose work (two poetry books and his collection of prose poetry) has been included in the list of 100 most valuable artifacts of Latvian culture called Latvijas Kultūras kanons (Latvian culture canon). Although Colourful Tales is prose, it contains a lot of elements characteristic to his poetry, such as various repetitions of phrases, words and sounds. It has rich language with different symbols, personifications, idioms etc. Therefore, it is interesting to see how Ieva Lešinska has found a way to keep the mood and the inner rhyme of the text in the translation.

All of the tales are centered around a single colour — this central aspect starts and ends each fairy tale, is repeated over and over again, and titles each individual tale and the collection as a whole. There are The White, The Yellow, The Brown, The Blue, The Black, The Red, The Purple, The Green, The Gray, The Polychromatic and The Amber Fairy Tale. However, in all other aspects, the stories are very different. There are some that are seemingly built on free flight of associations, such as “The White” or “The Yellow” fairy tales. There are also some that cover very current environmental, social, and moral issues, including forest fires, alcoholism, and human values. “The Green Fairy Tale”, for example, tells a story of how the forest comes into the city once a year and clears out all the bad smells and dust, raising the important issue of pollution.

It was midnight. Trolleybuses were already returning to the depot and said that the bus station by the Daugava had been taken over and all the regular buses had stopped: green moss had crawled into the exhaust pipes, making the buses cough and suffocate. The trolley-busses were safe, the forest was only after those cars and buses that fouled up the air and were harmful for people. Right now, the trolleybuses said, the forest was after the taxis and other gas-guzzlers.

Dump trucks were being questioned: did they ever dump garbage in the forest? Old cans, refuse, rags? The interrogation is being conducted by little junipers who remember everything, including the people who tear up whole plants when they go berry-picking and those who carve hearts and names into tree trunks, tear off birch bark or break bottles. They remember everything. But especially, they remember the license plates of those cars that tend to idle in the forest, tear up roots, and stink up the air. (39-40p.)

The book is illustrated by 11 artists of the Art Academy of Latvia. Each artist uses very different styles and techniques to interpret the tales. The illustration by Laura Krūmiņa with the bumblebees wearing sunglasses was my personal favorite, as well as my daughter’s. But a little bit of the inside of the book can be seen at below another very interesting description of this collection.

I grew up loving these tales and have used them in lessons with my students and read them with my own kids. Therefore, I am very happy that English readers also have a chance to enjoy them.

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