'Long ago, in faraway Russia, there was a great academy of ballet.'
So begins the first story in The Girl with the Peacock Harp, The Russia that Michael Eisele is faraway in terms of history, this being the Russia of a Tsars. It is also the remote, snow-bound of fairy-tale and folkore, a strange place where - given the oddness of everyday Russian reality - almost anything might happen.
The story concerns Rasveta, daughter of a poor woman well known - perhaps intimately - to the legendary Master of the academy. When the Master admits the poor girl the high-born dancers are shocked, and some become resentful when Rasveta shows herself to be superbly talented, The death of the Master removes the poor girl's one defence against the spite of her aristocratic rivals, and she is expelled.
This might have been a realistic tragedy, but the story then develops in a surprising way. There is no Disney-style happy ending, with the poor girl vindicated and her snooty rival brought low. But there is a denouement that has all the magic and mystery of a folk tale, or indeed a Russian ballet. This is a poised, delicate start to the collection, very much in a minor key, but all the more enjoyable for that.
Another short review tomorrow.