Gathered here is a beguiling selection of folktales from Zimbabwe and Botswana as retold by the best-selling author of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. This treasury contains most of the stories previously collected in Children of Wax and seven new tales from the Setswana-speaking people of Botswana.
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. Agent, Robin Strauss. (Dec. 7) Forecast: Many of these stories were originally published in a 1989 collection (Children of Wax, from Canongate). This expanded volume arrives just in time for Christmas and should delight fans of The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency and the first installment in Smith's new series, The Sunday Philosophy Club. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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December 06, 2004
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Excerpt from The Girl Who Married a Lion by Alexander McCall Smith
A rich man like Mzizi, who had many cattle, would normally be expected to have many children. Unhappily, his wife, Pitipiti, was unable to produce children. She consulted many people about this, but although she spent much on charms and medicines that would bring children, she remained barren.
Pitipiti loved her husband and it made her sad to see his affection for her vanishing as he waited for the birth of children. Eventually, when it was clear that she was not a woman for bearing a child, Pitipiti's husband married another wife. Now he lived in the big kraal with his new young wife, and Pitipiti heard much laughter coming from the new wife's hut. Soon there was a first child, and then another.
Pitipiti went to take gifts to the children, but she was rebuffed by the new wife.
"For so many years Mzizi wasted his time with you," the new wife mocked. "Now in just a short time I have given him children. We do not want your gifts."
She looked for signs in her husband's eyes of the love that he used to show for her, but all she saw was the pride that he felt on being the father of children. It was as if she no longer existed for him. Her heart cold within her, Pitipiti made her way back to her lonely hut and wept. What was there left for her to live for now--her husband would not have her and her brothers were far away. She would have to continue living by herself and she wondered whether she would be able to bear such loneliness.
Some months later, Pitipiti was ploughing her fields when she heard a cackling noise coming from some bushes nearby. Halting the oxen, she crept over to the bushes and peered into them. There, hiding in the shade, was a guinea fowl. The guinea fowl saw her and cackled again.
"I am very lonely," he said. "Will you make me your child?"
Pitipiti laughed. "But I cannot have a guinea fowl for my child!" she exclaimed. "Everyone would laugh at me."
The guinea fowl seemed rather taken aback by this reply, but he did not give up.
"Will you make me your child just at night?" he asked. "In the mornings I can leave your hut very early and nobody will know."
Pitipiti thought about this. Certainly this would be possible: if the guinea fowl was out of the hut by the time the sun arose, then nobody need know that she had adopted it. And it would be good, she thought, to have a child, even if it was really a guinea fowl.
"Very well," she said, after a few moments' reflection. "You can be my child."
The guinea fowl was delighted, and that evening, shortly after the sun had gone down, he came to Pitipiti's hut. She welcomed him and made him an evening meal, just as any mother would do with her child. They were both very happy.
Still the new wife laughed at Pitipiti. Sometimes she would pass by Pitipiti's fields and jeer at her, asking her why she grew crops if she had no mouths to feed. Pitipiti ignored these jibes, but inside her every one of them was like a small sharp spear that cuts and cuts.
The guinea fowl heard these taunts from a tree in which he was sitting, and he cackled with rage. For the new wife, though, these sounds were just the sound of a bird in a tree.