cover image Merab's Beauty and Other Stories

Merab's Beauty and Other Stories

Torgny Lindgren. HarperCollins Publishers, $18.95 (243pp) ISBN 978-0-06-016229-0

These 14 modern folktales, set for the most part in isolated, pre-20th-century Swedish villages and farms, powerfully depict the plight of rural peasants. A stern moralist as well as an accomplished storyteller, Lindgren ( Bathsheba ) pits his characters' hubris against the forces of nature and an uncompromising God. In the title story Gabriel Israelssom, an old bachelor besotted by the beauty of his cows, must take on the ghost of his dead father, who is jealous of both the animals' loveliness and his son's affection for them. ``The Stump Grubber'' describes the gruesome death of a farmer as he attempts to wrestle a gigantic tree stump from the ground; he thinks of it as ``a primitive monster'' over which he must gain mastery. The novella ``The Way of the Serpent'' tells of the perverted relationship between a family of peasants and a moneylender, the relentless nemesis of many farmers whose land he repossesses and whom he pushes deeper and deeper in debt. For ``rent'' he demands payment in sexual services from the women in the family. Nineteenth-century realism, biblical morality and Lindgren's personal mysticism are combined successfully in this unusual collection. (Feb.)