From the Mango Tree and Other Folktales from Nepal
In the preface of this book, one of the authors, Sarah Lamstein, describes how she and her family went to Nepal in 1973 and were captivated by the beauty of the country, the gentleness of the people, and the "aura of exotic spirituality." She met the writer Kavita Ram Shrestha, and they decided to collaborate on a folktale project: he selected and translated the tales, and she reworked them.
Much had altered in Nepal by the time of Lamstein's next visit in 1981, and even more so now, as political changes and the Western world make their influences felt on Kathmandu. Rural life and the storytelling tradition continue largely unchanged at this time, but one wonders for how long. At least we have these stories, feeling warm and fresh from the mouths of living tellers in this, the only collection of folktales from Nepal that is currently in print.
There are fifteen stories in the collection, collected mostly from the folktale, rather than the religious, tradition, although I did recognize one of the stories as a variant of one of the Ganesha stories reviewed elsewhere in this issue. There are pourquoi stories explaining the creation of certain caves, rivers and lakes. One story, about a jackal, is reminiscent of puss-in boots. Another, entitled King Silly and Minister Sloppy, is a story of fools and tricksters. In almost all of the stories, there is a strong message of kindness and virtue rewarded, clearly reflecting the beliefs and lives of the Nepalese people. Religion, we are told in the information section of the book, has a strong physical and psychological presence.
One of the stories that intrigued me explains how alcohol was brought into existence to trick a man into revealing his secret. To use alcohol is to lose a lot, is the message of the story; in this case, man loses his control over death, and death becomes silent, invisible, and pitiless. The introduction to Nepal which comprises about one third of the book, is a fascinating look at the people, history, religion, daily life, and arts. As a source of information for projects it would probably best be used by students of middle school age and older. The stories will be enjoyed by people of all ages.
The only criticism I have of the book, and it is a regret more than a criticism, is that I would have liked pronunciations included in the glossary. A fascinating glimpse at a fascinating culture through stories that are universal in their appeal and message.
Libraries Unlimited's World Folklore Series began in 1991 with Norma. Livo's Folk Stories of the Hmong, and has now grown to include 8 books which cover Tlngit myths, stories from Kenya, legends from the Hispanic Southwest, Thai tales, folklore of the Pennsylvania Dutch, and this years collections from Nepal and the African bush.
Each book includes an introduction to the country or overview of the culture from which the stories come, and they have selections of both black and white and colour photographs. A map of the country is included, as are a glossary, bibliography, and information about the author(s).The Second Story Review, Vol 2 , No. 2, June 1997