Uncle Fedya, His Dog, and His Cat
Written by Eduard Uspensky
Illustrated by Vladimir Shpitalnik
Knopf, 1993, 136 pp.
Uncle Fedya, His Dog, and His Cat by Eduard Uspensky is one of the most popular children’s books in Russia. It has been read by almost every child and was made into a series of cartoons which are loved equally by children and adults. The main character of the book is a little boy named Fedya. He is a very serious young person; “he could read by the time his was four and make soup by the time he was six.” That is why his parents call him Uncle Fedya.
His parents love him, but he is, nevertheless, unhappy. He loves animals, but his mother is absolutely against any animals in the house. One day Uncle Fedya meets a cat. It is not just an ordinary cat. His name is Mr. Matroskin, and he can talk, but he does not have a home. Since Fedya’s mother would not allow Mr. Matroskin to stay with the family, Fedya decides to run away to a village outside of Moscow. There he settles with Mr. Matroskin and a new friend, a stray dog named Sharik. They are a family, helping each other. Mr. Matroskin tends the cow so that they have enough milk. Sharik tries many occupations. He wants to be a hunter, but he does not like to kill animals, so he becomes a photographer.
Mr. Matroskin and Sharik both learned to talk from a professor who studied animal languages and could speak decent Cat and Dog. This professor was working on the People-Cat and the People-Dog dictionaries. But who ever met a cat or a dog “speaking a word of People?”
These three friends have a lot of adventures including finding a treasure chest full of gold and silver coins, experiencing a calf being born, working with a small tractor called Mitya that runs entirely on people’s food, and teasing a local postmaster Pechkin who likes poking his nose into other people’s business. Isn’t this the dream of every child– to run away from home and to be your own boss? But Uncle Fedys became sick, and as much as his friends try to help him, he needs his mother. That is when his parents find him!
The black and white drawings as well as the color cover illustrations by the Russian-born American artist Vladimir Shpitalnik portray the serene world of the Russian village Milkville and the humorous images of the characters. The book was translated into English by Michael Henry Heim who is well-known for his translations of Anton Chekhov, Milan Kundera, and Thomas Mann.
Eduard Uspensky wrote many books for children, including a few translated into English: Crocodile Gene and His Friends (1989), and The Little Warranty People (1994). These books could be read together as an author study and to discover similarities and differences between Russian fantasy and that of other countries. Uncle Fedya, His Dog, and His Cat has been translated into a number of other languages, such as Chinese, Estonian, Serbian, Turkish, and Finish.
Olga Bukhina, International Association for the Humanities, New York, NY.