Marina Petrovna had four children and she knew that, although she loved them all deeply, none of them was THAT child, the little girl she really wanted, the one she was waiting for…

Winter nights are long and cold in the forests of the far north, and when the family gathers around the hearth in the dark, one should somehow spend that long, monotonous time. And could there be a better way to fill the cold darkness than by telling stories full of magic and myths?

Before the four children can decide which story to tell, their mother, Marina Petrovna, sits down next to them and asks for the story of Frost, Morozok, the demon, the king of winter, and Marfa, the girl her stepmother decided to marry him and sent her deep into the woods, in the middle of winter, to be taken away by Frost forever…

But Marfa returned, bringing with her a real treasure — precious stones, precious metals, and sumptuous fabrics. The reward that the demon gave her for courage and kindness.

Marina Petrovna never talked about her mother, but she wanted a daughter just like she was. And she felt it when that being burst inside her. And she knew the price she had to pay for her daughter’s life.

I want a daughter like my mother was, Marina said. Well there she was, a falcon among cows.

Katherine Arden “The bear and the nightingale”

Vasilisa Petrovna was an ugly child; over-sized eyes set on a cheeky face that she never dared look at anyone directly and without the shyness and shame expected of a well-behaved girl; slender and fast, always more in the mood to run into the woods at any time of the day than to spend strenuous hours in the company of older women and their endless and endlessly boring household chores.

But as Vasya grew up, she began to realize that one of two futures awaited her in this world; that of a wife and mother who will live life between the birthing bed and the cooking stove or that of a women locked behind the convent walls.

Until then, however, there is still plenty of time, Vasya thinks, to socialize with her siblings, animals, and her forest friends who are neither humans nor animals and who no one but her seems to see.

It is a time to put aside dreaming. Fairy tales are sweet on winter nights, nothing more.

Katherine Arden “The bear and the nightingale”

The children need a mother, so at some point Vasya’s father remarries. Anna Ivanovna is a strange woman; grumpy and pious, who either screams out of anger at everyone around her or out of fear because… because… Because she thought she would run away from them if she went far north. Because she thought she wouldn’t see them there. And because she realized that in the north, in the house where she became the landlady, there are more of them than anywhere else…

And Vasya is not afraid of them.

What kind of child is that? Doesn’t anyone know what misfortune and curse that child will bring into their lives if someone doesn’t do something?

“Are you a devil?” There was a small pause. “I don’t know. Maybe. What is a devil?”

Katherine Arden “The bear and the nightingale”

While Vasya is still carefree walking through her forests and talking to her animals, she herself feels that something is changing, that something is waiting, that something is threatening. But Vasya does not know who is coming to the village. She doesn’t know what Anna Ivanovna is preparing for her. And she doesn’t know that her nurse, an old woman who told them stories all her childhood, who was their second mother while Marina was still alive, keeps the talisman that Pyotr Vladimirovich promised to give to his youngest daughter in exchange for his son’s life?

She doesn’t know that old Dunya is talking in her sleep at night to who intended this talisman for Vasya and that she has been delaying giving the girl a necklace for years. But the time is approaching…

With the arrival of another god, in the form of the beautiful Constantine, the old gods of the Russian north wake up as the protectors of the hearths weaken and die.

Is there anyone who can oppose both?

“Tell me truly, what is there for me here but walls and cages? I will be free, and I will not count the cost.”

Katherine Arden “The bear and the nightingale”

Although this book has been on my to-read list for months, I couldn’t find it in the sea of good books that have been on the same list for a long time. Although, like the previous one, “The Snow Child”, I wish I had read it in the winter, even this time between spring and summer has brought its charms by reading this book. Especially when we had a week of rainy days and foggy mornings, remaining me of those late fall days just before the winter starts.

So much can be read in the book “The Bear and the Nightingale”; you can read a reconstructed history of medieval Russia, a Russia from folklore, mythology and fairy tales, as it was before it became the Russia we know today and the one we cannot know in any other way than by imagination.

You can read a picture of what the clash of old, pagan Slavic beliefs and Christianity looked like in those parts at the time. To tell this story, author Katherine Arden drew many characters from ancient Russian history and from Russian mythology and fairy tales written by A. Pushkin and A. N. Afanasyev and placed them on the chessboard of her book.

You can, if you are a girl or a woman, read this story as a real (and at the right time arrived) inspiration for all the decisions concerning the unconditional following of your own path, your own nature and your own heart. It’s hard for me, remembering the books I read back a year or two, to come up with a better role model.

From the first day of her life she was different; she dreamed differently, she planned differently, she decided differently, she spoke differently, she looked differently than anyone else from her village. And, of course, everyone knew that this would sooner or later get her into huge trouble.

In her wild and noble nature, she embodied such an unrestrained vitality that people would like to meet more often in others, especially in women, especially in their own children.

“Courage will save you”

Katherine Arden “The bear and the nightingale”

Isn’t, even today, the main occupation of many how to put a woman in her place, how to tame her, how to “help” her with marriage and children to find her true center, her true nature, her true purpose, how to deny her the right to manage herself because we are trying to prove to her that we are only protecting her from herself?

Isn’t even today a woman who wants everything according to her rules someone who constantly causes headaches, big and small irritations, but also concerns about the fate of society, morals and mental health of children – let’s go even further, into even greater absurdities – someone who causes fear for the future and earth and heaven and humanity and the world as we know it?

It’s not hard to imagine what then happened to women who dreamed and saw differently. Imagine having someone who is always rebellious, always disobedient, always defiant. Imagine having a community whose existence is so heavily dependent on the mercy and disfavor of climate and nature. Imagine the cruelty of nature tormenting the community with temperatures, storms that destroy crops and cause them to starve to death. Imagine family members dying overnight from cold, from starvation, from diseases that didn’t exist until two days ago.

“…the cold embrace of the winter god is not for mortal maidens.”

Katherine Arden “The bear and the nightingale”

Man sooner or later wants to find the culprit for all the misfortune that happens. Can you imagine where the culprit is easiest to find? Maybe right where a person’s anger, resentment, impatience, maybe envy is already directed?

This is exactly what Katherine Arden described so beautifully in relation to the beautiful priest Constantine, who came to Vasya’s backyard to save people and bring them to a new God. With his voice, his beauty, he succeeded in succeeding everywhere – in transmitting the glory and power of the new God among men who, if they believed in anything at all, believed in false gods.

But Vasya does not lower her head or her gaze in front of him. He fails to win her over or break her. On the contrary, he is the one who can think of nothing but her; he is the one who has no power over her, and she has no mercy over him, no obedience before him.

“It is a cruel task, to frighten people in God’s name. I leave it to you.” She hesitated and added, very softly. “However, Batyushka, I am not afraid.”

Katherine Arden “The bear and the nightingale” Batyushka – Батюшка – Father(priest)

You can, finally, read this story only as a fairy tale, just as another in a series of books that retell old myths. You can try at least. I’m sure that once you start reading it, it will completely take you out of the grip of all expectations. Just like Vasya.

And I am sure – and behind this statement I put all my reputation and my good name, if I still have it – that you will not be reading a book this winter (leave it for winter) that will make your heart beat faster and more passionately.

And I’m sure you’ll want more and more and more! Fortunately, Katherine Arden is not George R. R. Martin, and two sequels to this story have already been written.

“The Winter is Coming” slogan is enriched with a completely new meaning and the books that are coming at the right time to fill the gaping hole in front of us, fans of the series “Game of Thrones” – there is no more series, no book sequels. Mr. George R. R. Martin owes one big “thank you” to Katherine Arden.

How I wish it were possible to somehow get Vasya into Westeros and put her next to Queen Daenerys; there is nothing that the two would not conquer. (If you did not figure it out I am a huge fan of “A Song of fire and ice” series)

“All my life”, she said, ‘I have been told ‘go’ and ‘come.’ I am told how I will live, and I am told how I must die. I must be a man’s servant and a mare for his pleasure, or I must hide myself behind walls and surrender my flesh to a cold, silent god. I would walk into the jaws of hell itself, if it were a path of my own choosing. I would rather die tomorrow in the forest than live a hundred years of the life appointed me.”

Katherine Arden “The bear and the nightingale”

Dead Serious I recommend; READ IT. Especially if you want to revive the passion to live uncontrollably and fearlessly.

33 thoughts on “THE BEAR AND THE NIGHTINGALE by Katherine Arden”

  1. What a story! Honestly this is the best story I’ve ever come across for bedtime. I hope I remember this when I have kids.
    Thank you for this.


  2. hi
    what a lovely story and indeed this is what we wanted to read on this day when all around there is so much uncertainty and complexity in life. thank you for sharing

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sure, my 16 year old siste and 13 year old cousin loved it. But as it your child I would recomend that you read it first and then see if you would let them read it. I know my friend read that story to her 9 year old, and the kid loved it, so…


  3. I kind of feel back for Vasilisa Petrovna – no kid deserves to be called ugly. I think I might pick The Bear and the Nightingale. I find the characters interesting and the ‘background’ or history is fascinating – mainly because I love everything Russian.

    Liked by 1 person

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