Shyaan am! Tuvan Folk Tales

Shyaan am! Tuvan Folk Tales selected and retold by Kira VanDeusen, illustrated by Alexei Sedipkov. Bellingham, W A: Udagan Books,l996. $9.95 ISBN 0-9647716-0

If you've never heard of Tuva, you're not alone. Few of the people I challenged were able to place Tuva where it belongs: at the geographic center of Asia. It is a smll republic within the Russian Federation.. in which the traditional Life was nomadic, with the Tuvans herding cows, goats, sheep, horses, reindeer, yaks, and camels.

Canadian storytellers Kira Van " Deusen happened On Tuvan tales in a Russian language collection.. and was immediately fascinated by them. She began to tell the stories. Later, in 1992, when the Tuvan throat singers came to the Vancouver Folk Festival, she was not only their interpreter, she told stories in concert with them. Since that time she has travelled to Tuva, stayed with nomads in a yurt, and met musicians, herders, teachers, lawyers and tellers. In Tuva, as elsewhere, many of the old ways and stories have been lost, but this book represents some of the most popular folktales, familiar to most Tuvans.

At least four of the tales reflect the movement of stories along trade routes. There is one in
which the Khan has donkey ears -a theme found in African, Korean, and Irish tales. The hero of another story is captured by a one-eyed monster, puts out the eye with a heated spit, and escapes by clinging to a sheep's back as in Odysseus and the cyclops. Another story is reminiscent of Puss in Boots, and yet another has the theme of the woman who must choose which of three men to marry. The rest are stories of magic, orphan heroes, wise princesses, and the evil Karaty-khan. It is easy to see these tales being told around the fire in a yurt, with the teller, calling out Shyaan am! (This is now!) and the listeners answering Shyaan am! (What next?) The stories are .colourful, full of drama and the rich culture of a people little known to most of us. They are also eminently tellable.
VanDeusen bas included a most welcome glossary, but a guide to pronunciation would have been helpful as well.

The book, and tapes of Tuvan and Chukotkan tales told by Van Deusen, are available from Udagan Books, P.0. Box 29374, Bellingham, WA 98228. In Canada, order from Kira Van Deusen:


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The Second Story Review, Vol 1, No. 2, Sep 1996
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