Belarus: “King Stakh’s Wild Hunt” by Uladzimir Karatkevich

Synopsis: Belaretsky is an ethnographer who, in the late-1800s, travels to Marsh Firs, a fairly desolate land that seems to be shrouded in mystery and depressive atmosphere, physically covered in dangerous swamps and bogs. At the heart of Marsh Firs is the castle belonging to the aristocratic Yanovsky family, of which only Nadzeya (an 18-year-old girl who seems on the verge of madness and death) remains. The Yanovsky family is supposedly cursed after an ancestor murdered King Stakh and his people generations previously. Now, the King Stakh and his people return to torment and ultimately murder each member of the Yanovsky family. Belaretsky vows to solve the mystery of the ghostly riders, as well as other beings that are haunting the castle.

The Good: The book is written in the style of a gothic horror novel, yet is fairly modern (published in the 1960s). It’s atmospheric and haunting, yet easy to read and become absorbed in. The characters are fleshed out (though somewhat one-dimensional similar to other gothic novels I’ve read) but serve their purposes well. The book is very spooky, from the ghostly riders to the beings in the castle, with some scenes that stick out in my mind (such as when Belaretsky sees the Little Man staring at him through the window). Overall, I enjoyed the atmosphere the book creates, which combines the writing of Dracula with the plot of Scooby Doo.

The Bad: I wouldn’t say anything was bad necessarily…but the characters could have been fleshed out more. They each had one personality trait and only one. Belaretsky is the honorable and brave hero; Nadzeya is the scared and dependent damsel in distress; one man is clearly the jealous bad guy; another one is the smitten sidekick; and so on.

The Rating: 4 out of 5

The Food: I didn’t set out to make non-challenging dishes, but that’s what they were. Each of the dishes were pretty tasty and not too different from what we would eat in America, anyways. For the main dish, I prepared Kotleta Pokrestyansky, pork chops with a mushroom sauce. On the side were draniki (potato pancakes), which involved shredding potatoes and then squeezing the juices out. For dessert, I made Kutya, which are sweet dishes made it rice, raisins, honey, and cream. Finally, for the drink, I chose Sbiten, which was the only non-alcoholic drink of Belarus that I could find. This was a hot drink made primarily of honey, blackberry jam, and water, with lots of earthy spices thrown in. All of the dishes were very tasty, making this one of the better meals we’ve had on this journey.

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