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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 A Girl Who Lived In A Cave, a cannibal confronts a girl returning to her family's home. When the family invites him to share a meal with them, he gobbles it up and abruptly leaves. The cannibal's appearance makes the family uneasy and they decide to depart. The young girl objects to leaving her beautiful home, but decides to live in a nearby cave while her family is gone. Soon, the girl's brother returns to check on his sister, singing her a special song to gain entrance to the cave. Unfortunately, the cannibal overhears the tune and later tricks the girl into allowing him to enter her sanctuary. The girl is captured and trussed up, while the cannibal lights a fire, preparing to eat her for his dinner. Like an avenging angel, the brother returns, pushes the cannibal into the flames instead and happily frees his sister.
The Girl Who Married A Lion is about Kumalo's daughter, who married a fine strong man. Soon, the woman's brother begins to worry that his sister has really married a lion in disguise. Several years go by and the woman bears two fine sons, but the brother worries that his brother-in-law still may have deceived his bride. Using a goat as bait, they trick the brother-in-law, finally driving him off. Now, the woman worries that her sons may somehow become lions, too. In a daring test, they cage the two sons in an area infested by lions, judging that if the boys are truly lions, the huge carnivores will not attack two of their own kind. The uncle is forced to defend his nephews to save the boys from the charging lions. Thus reassured, the woman once again welcomes her sons home.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book! Children will really like this rare and wonderful departure from the more traditional folk tales. I embraced the difference and am the better for it.
Smith states that he has taken certain liberties in the telling of these tales to make them more appealing to a broader readership. Animals and people are somewhat interchangeable in African lore and that is apparent in these stories. Examples of the titles are: Guinea Fowl Child; Sister of Bones; Children of Wax; The Girl Who Married a Lion; Two Bad Friends. Most of the stories have a lesson, although some are a little obtuse. Some of the stories bear some similarities to folktales of other lands; universal truths, as it were.
One of my favorites is Sister of Bones; another is Why Elephant and Hyena Live Far From People; another, Two Friends Who Met for Dinner (love this one!). This book is a good one to leave close at hand for a quick read or re-read of a favorite story. The stories range in number of pages from three or four to eight or nine, and are very easy to read. Some might be a little scary for youngsters, but, then, so are the Brothers Grimm, and Bambi.
Carolyn Rowe Hill
The voices on the audio CD are wonderful as well, providing the lilting, colorful English that makes listening to African voices so mesmerizing. The only downside to this collection is that the story endings are sometimes quite flat. There are so many sudden, unsatisfying endings that I began to wonder whether I was witnessing a cultural preference rather than a lack of skill. No matter. Listen to these wonderful stories (which I am convinced is far preferable to reading them) and be transported to a simple land of village life and magical animals.