Book Review: The Steel Flea by Nikola Leskov | Little Black Classics

Capture Sunshine: The steel Flea

“He gave orders that they were not to get any hot glum pudding in flames, for fear the spirits in their innards might catch fire…”

I am introduced to Russian literature by Nikolay Leskov’s ‘The Steel Flea’ which is an abbreviated form of its Russian title, ‘The Tale of Cross-eyed Lefty from Tula and the Steel Flea’. Written in the 19th century, this book is considered as one of the finest works of Nikolay. His political humour with a touch of sarcasm is what gives the story its unique voice.

The story often styled as a folk-tale, tells a story about a left-handed craftsman (named Lefty) from Tula who managed to successfully outperform his Englishmen counterparts by crafting a miniature steel flea (which if wounded perfectly would dance all around you), on the orders by the Emperor of Russia.

The story is short and crisp and doesn’t allow me to tell you more about it lest I spill out the plot.

As you progress through the book, you’ll find words with repetitive mistranslations, for e.g. (nitroscope for microscope), (thrist mate for first mate) and I do not understand if they are a byproduct of poor proofreading or been purposefully kept in order to make it humorous? Either ways, I am not impressed.

A mere 52 page story would restrict you to be emotionally invested in the characters but if you’re looking to be introduced to Russian literature or to the sly narrative style of Nikolay, this must better be your pick!

This is a part of ‘Little Black Classics’ from Penguin to celebrate its 80th birthday and I bought a few of them because I was intrigued to read stories from across time and space. I hope to review all of them sooner or later. Stay tuned.


  1. Sahara

    I love reading old fashioned books, 19th century books have a certain style that make them interesting to keep reading no matter how short or long it is. I feel like the repetitive mistranslations might be a bit odd or probably annoy me in the beginning but after a while of reading did it get better? As in like you didn’t feel bothered by it? 52 pages! That is a short novel, might give it a read as it’ll be a quick one to flip through! I look forward to reading your reviews of the Little Black Classics books you bought – I love reading book reviews because that means my to be read list gets longer 🙂


  2. jennyinneverland

    I don’t think this is the kinda book I’d reach for but I really would like to read more classics. I’ve only read a handful and although I don’t LOVE all of them, I feel like they’re the kinda book you should read, you know?

  3. justnatonya

    O I wanted to say, as far as fictional books I do like reading themes like the series Poldark from the British 1700s. I always like reading American 80s style stories too and any mysterious or romantic novels.

  4. Andrea Harris

    Aaaah. I love short stories. I can handle 54 pages of just about anything and also love reading literature from different cultures! Thank you for introducing me to this little gem.

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