A Thousand Beginnings and Endings

35430013

Title: A Thousand Beginnings and Endings

Writer: Edited by Ellen Oh & Elsie Chapman

Publishing House: Greenwillow Books

Date of Publication: June 26th 2018

Rating: 2 stars

This is a collection I couldn’t wait to start. When I was about eight years old, my grandma bought me a volume of Asian Folk Tales and thus, she opened a window to a world that was exotic, mysterious, a land of fairytale to my young mind. This was the beginning of my fascination with Asian cultures, especially the ones found in India and China. I thought that this collection, edited by Ellen Oh, would feel like a magic carpet to the lands that seem so distant, hidden, often misunderstood. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be…In fact, it was a severe disappointment.

This collection consists of 15 original, mostly contemporary, tales that are retellings of myths and legends, focused on ghosts, star-crossed lovers and angry spirits, heroes and deities, combined with modern aspects of our societies, e.g. androids, role-playing games, school cliques. Unfortunately, this combination didn’t work for me. While the human need for revenge and love and understanding lies behind the tales, the writing is choppy, uninspiring. Turning traditional tales into naive stories about bots or teenage vampires results in ridiculing the subject matter. Following each tale, there is a note from each writer, explaining their inspiration behind the story. What they don’t explain is the reason for turning beautiful myths into Nickelodeon, Twilight-inspired, cringe-worthy fanfiction. A look in their biographies answered my question. YA ‘’novels’’ and Hallmark scripts. Not really Pulitzer-worthy material. If YA audience was the target crowd for this collection, then, I’m sorry, I had no idea….

The stories that saved the book from being an unexpected DNF were:

Forbidden Fruit : A Mountain Goddess falls in love with a mortal but she hadn’t anticipated the evil done by humans. A sad tale from the Philippines.

Olivia’s Table: A young Chinese-American woman arrives in Arizona for the Ghost Festival. She is a peculiar exorcist who continues the work of her late mother. Once a year, the ghosts need to eat in order for their soul to rest in peace. They walk among the living, waiting…A beautiful story whose roots lie in the vast Chinese tradition.

The Land of the Morning Calm: A beautiful story of a family who tries to cope with a sudden, tragic loss. Korean traditions are paired with the strange world of RPG in a tale of motherhood, obsession for an artificial world and the need to move on.

Bullet, Butterfly: A tale of love, war and loss. Based on a well-known Chinese legend of star-crossed lovers.

In my opinion, the weakest moments in the collection were the stories based on the Hindu traditions. I felt the writers were highly disrespectful towards them, creating superficial ‘’tales’’ full of cliches and horrible dialogue. I think the only ‘’tradition’’ that may have inspired them was the Bollywood industry and its atrocities because the beliefs and customs of India are rich, complex, mystical. Not this, whatever it was. For example, the story Spear Carrier is supposedly inspired by the epic Mahabharata and it is an abomination.

To my extreme disappointment, this was an extremely uneven collection with very few gems in an attempt to salvage a collection that could have been glorious. Instead, it was barely passable. I definitely suggest you give it a try, though. You may find what I wasn’t able to distinguish. Having read tons of short stories collection based on myths and traditions, written with quality and taste and not like scribbles for a Nickelodeon TV series, this one appeared to me frightfully average.

 

5 Comments Add yours

  1. Ayunda says:

    It’s too bad you didn’t like this book, it sounds very interesting. I don’t know much about Indian folklore so I would’ve really liked to explore more. Short story collections however are always a hit or miss and it’s rare that we fall in love with ALL the stories in it.

    Like

    1. Most of the short stories collections I’ve read over the years were extremely well-written, especially the ones based on folklore and traditions. They are usually (one can never be certain) by esteemed writers belonging in the Folk or Literary genre. If I had known that the majority of the writers included in this anthology were YA authors, I wouldn’t have tried my luck with it. It is not a genre I appreciate apart from examples that are very few and far between. Why the need to include androids and teenage vampires when each country has such vast and rich traditions is completely beyond me.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ayunda says:

        I agree as well, I also prefer adult or literary short stories that have memorable writing and do not to add too many weird out of the world aspects that don’t really fit in. Hope I can find short story collections that are more worth the read 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Sorry this one did not meet your expectations. Your review was excellent and honest.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Marialyce! It was deeply disappointing to see such rich Folklore derived from fascinating Asia being turned into fanfiction.

      Like

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