I’m telling this in circles, I know. Inside-Out and wrong-way-round. The words are twisting, tangling.
Forget the Disney version; fairy tales are actually dark and eerie things, that well deserved the title Grimm. In The Bone Mother, author David Demchuk is inspired by Ukrainian folklore and superstition to create a community consisting of three towns inhabited by all the legendary gods and monsters of Eastern Europe. The non-linear nature of the book which jumps back and forth between the forests of the Ukraine in days long past to modern day Canada, only makes it all more unsettling. We’re kept off balance and constantly guessing as to the nature of what is happening; there’s a larger pattern here as we eventually see, but the entire truth may be beyond human comprehension.
There is, it seems, an old race living in this part of the country. A race of beings sired by gods and monsters. We hear their stories one by one in the first person. There’s the Rusalka, a seductive and vengeful water spirit who lures men and children to their doom. The Vovkuluka who take the form of wolves and humans and live within the woods. The Strigoi who feast on blood. The Dvoynik who possesses human forms to spread its evil. Recently departed spirits navigating what their path should be now that they’re dead. A man who encounters a nyavka, a forest witch, who offers him an impossible choice. And most importantly of all, the titular Bone Mother, an old crone with teeth of iron, who can provide salvation or doom. Meet her challenges and she helps you – fail her and she’ll eat you. ‘Good children do taste better,’ she muses at one point.
Even beyond the presence of these uncanny creatures there is something evil afoot here at the Factory and the larger countryside has been repeatedly torn apart by war and famine. In World War II with the arrival of the Night Police, things get very bad indeed, with atrocities whose effects spread across continents and generations. The Bone Mother’s power is the realization that the supernatural beings are not the only source of terror. Oftentimes the most horrific and shocking acts are performed by ordinary humans driven to do the unspeakable, either out of desperation or their own dark urges. That’s the cautionary nature of the tale; even without Drevniye and the Naystarsha, the monsters will always be among us.
The Bone Mother
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