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The Girl Who Married a Lion: and Other Tales from Africa Hardcover – December 7, 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
Straying from the safety net of a bestselling series (The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, etc.), Smith tells 40 traditional African folk tales with his by now signature humor, simplicity and reverence for African culture. With an introductory letter from No. 1 Lady Detective Mma Ramotswe as a preface, he sets the literary stage for a nostalgic stroll down his own personal memory lane. Born and raised in what is now Zimbabwe, Smith began collecting these stories as a child and combines them with several he gleaned from a friend who interviewed natives of Botswana. Many of the stories parallel classic Western tales, from Aesop to Mother Goose. The ubiquitous wolf-in-sheep's-clothing fable becomes a parable about a girl who unwittingly marries a lion. Other stories deal with familiar themes ranging from ingratitude (in "Head Tree," a man cured of a tree growing out of his head does not pay the charm woman her due) to vanity (in "Greater Than Lion," a hare outwits a conceited and boastful lion). However, many are uniquely African, such as the stories that explain why the elephant and hyena live far from people or how baboons became so lazy. These are pithy, engaging tales, as habit-forming as peanuts.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
*Starred Review* Spiteful leopards. Reprehensible hares. A proud, heartless hunter who goes from predator to prey. Moral flaws plague man and animal alike in this engaging gathering of traditional folktales from the best-selling author of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency and its sequels. Scotsman McCall Smith, who lives in Edinburgh, was raised in Zimbabwe and pays frequent visits to Botswana (the latter's real-life village of Gabarone is home to his fictional detective, Mma Precious Ramotswe). Although this collection carries McCall Smith's byline, the stories themselves are the property of the generous, good-humored Africans who have told them for generations (the author--with the assistance of an interpreter--heard many of them firsthand). In the title selection, a girl weds the "king of the jungle," then wonders whether her two offspring are boys or wild beasts. These deceptively simple tales remind us that "we are not the masters of nature--we are part of it," writes McCall Smith in the introduction, a message that citizens of the Western world would be well advised to keep in mind. Preceding this spirited offering is a brief letter from Mma Ramotswe herself, who ponders the lore of her beloved homeland while preparing a pot of bush tea. Allison Block
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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In this short book containing 33 distinct stories, Smith has chosen those which tell a story and a lesson in the clearest and most concise manner. Subjects such as jealousy, beauty and selfishness are fully covered. The lessons of courage and the despair of hubris are taught with aplomb. The messages of deceit are well illustrated and its consequences well articulated.
Additionally, no subject is off bounds for McCall Smith as one of his stories casually talks about the Evolutionary development of baboons ("The Baboons Who Went This Way And That"). Clearly on a subject like that, Smith leaves it to the reader to make up their own minds. But whatever your belief system, Smith's book is evocative. It does ask the reader to examine himself and examine others, and compare them to the metaphoric archetypes that Smith provides a glimpse of in these stories.
Once again, Alexander McCall Smith creates a work that both entertains and educates. And this one can be read to people of any age, from 1 to 110. It is truly a marvelous collection of stories that once only traveled by word of mouth. Any reader can enjoy this book.
I do not have a favorite story to recommend. Only to say that they are all interesting and delightful.
Warning - once you start a story, you might not be able to put it down. It is a good thing that each story is short.
For fans of Smith's bestselling series, the tales offer another view of Precious Ramotswe's world, an intriguing journey into its folklore, blantantly exploited by the publisher with the inclusion of an additional introduction to the collection by the fictional Mma Ramotswe. While the Ramotswe introduction is charming, it threatens the validity of the collection as a folklore collection, reminding the reader that this collection hopes to capitalize on that series' success.
Despite, and even because of all of this, the book is a worthwhile read, presenting deceptively simple stories from an often overlooked part of the world. Most of the 40 tales have been published previously (see Smith's "Children of Wax"), but seven of them are unique to this new collection. Whether you read the book because you are a fan of Mma Ramotswe or because you love folklore, you will not be disappointed as you enjoy the stories of tricksters, animals, and even a cannibal or two.