If you mention the name Alexander McCall Smith I have noticed that two things seem to happen. Either people utterly love him/really like him or, simply put, they really don’t. I am in the really like him camp… for some books! I really like to turn to Mma Precious Ramotswe and ‘The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency’ series when I am in need of some comfort and a jolly read. I am not such a fan of either the ‘44 Scotland Street’ or ‘Corduroy Mansions’ though living in London adds a certain something to the latter. Anyway I decided to try something completely different with my latest McCall Smith and went for his retelling of African folktales (which I originally thought was part of the Canongate Myths Series); I do like a good folk tale after all.
Originally entitled ‘The Children of Wax’ when it was first published in 1989‘The Girl Who Married A Lion’ is a collection of over 30 folk tales from Zimbabwe and Botswana that McCall spent a lot of time researching and being told from the people to who these stories had been handed down to through the generations. Some people may say ‘Well these aren’t McCall Smiths tales then are they?’ but they he has edited and changed somewhat to carry the McCall Smith feel and are his way, so he states in the introduction, designed to introduce readers to the wonderful tales of those regions and letting them live out in the world.
The tales themselves are really quite wonderful. I won’t give you a synopsis of each of the 34 tales because that would a) take forever and b) take the enjoyment out of the book for any of you who go on to read it. However I will try and give you an overview. In this collection we have cannibals, a woman who gives birth to children who are made of wax, a man who has a tree growing out of his head, a girl who marries a lion and several stories of how different breeds of animals learnt to mistrust each other through various escapades plus many more tales. Of course why all these situations came to be you would have to read the book to find out.
The whole collection does wonderfully evoke Africa (I went to Kenya when I was much younger and this brought it all back) even though each tale is a maximum of around four pages each. I love the idea of days from the past where animals and humans communicated and you are really carried away with your imagination. You can feel that they all have the history, landscape and heat of the country embedded in them. I loved the simplicity of them even though in many ways they are all magically surreal some more so than others, and you can see why this was re-issued as a book in both adult and child editions. These tales also carry a moral at the end of the story and I am sure all of us whatever age we may be could gain something from this book as well as thoroughly enjoying reading it. 7/10
This collection has made me want to read the folklore and fairytales from all over the world. I read Perrault’s tales not too long ago (am still enjoying Angela Carter’s retellings sparingly to savour them) and have Hans Christian Anderson and the Brothers Grimm’s collections in the TBR as well as a collection of Amazonian folk lore but which ones am I missing? Do you know of any? Or of any wonderful modern re-tellings?
(P.S Sorry for the late post, it’s my wedding anniversary today and so a second day of surprises has been lined up for both parties.)