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.
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*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 BlockCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved