cover image Russian Optimism: Dark Nursery Rhymes to Cheer You Right Up

Russian Optimism: Dark Nursery Rhymes to Cheer You Right Up

Ben Rosenfeld. BigBen Comedy, $30 (68 pages) ISBN 978-0-9908552-0-0

“In my childhood, my mom gouged out my eyes/ So that I wouldn’t find the jam./Now I don’t watch movies and I don’t read fairy tales, / But on the bright side, I smell and hear really well.” Thus begins Rosenfeld’s collection of translated Russian nursery rhymes. Rosenfeld grew up in the Soviet Union, and his father would always get him laughing by reading him some of these rhymes. Cannibalism, murder, patricide, and mutilation abound. People are run over by lawn mowers, plowed into by trains, and bit by rats lurking in toilets. Each rhyme features an illustration, its original Russian version, an English translation, and a transliteration. Sinister and grim, the rhymes are translated without rhyming, which unfortunately robs them of much of their original appeal. They are also not served by the illustrations, which never quite suit the tone of the rhymes and often seem too silly. In all, this is an appealing project that never quite comes together, like a less funny version of Edward Gorey’s The Gashlycrumb Tinies. (BookLife)