Do not read this, listen to it.
Besides the veritable buffet of Hollywood A-listers from various ethnic backgrounds providing narrations, there’s beautiful music and songs in the interludes between stories and in the stories themselves. I’ve derived much enjoyment from the imaginative and enthusiastic performances from the narrators, most of whom possess great skills with accents. Even if you don’t recognise a couple of the narrators’ names, odds are you’d recognise their faces.
Whoopi Goldberg and Hugh Jackman’s performances were outstanding though most were above average.
Urban legends, origin stories, fables, parables, myths, magic, time travel, African versions of well-known fairy tales, clever and devious characters, and emotionally touching stories – what more could you want?
Well, the publisher has donated 100% of its takings from the audio to Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund and Artists for New South Africa who work with children affected by HIV/AIDS.
Here’s a rundown of the folktales:
Introduction – Desmond Tutu
★★★☆☆ The Ring of the King (Mythical African kingdom) – Alan Rickman
Slightly iffy narration. Very clever story. I laughed at the end.
★★★★☆ Asmodeus and the Bottler of Djinns (South African English) – Whoopi Goldberg
Excellent and highly enjoyable narration. Another clever story.
★★★★★ Mpipidi and the Motlopi Tree (Botswana) – Matt Damon
Beautiful singing. Heartwarming story of a boy who finds and takes care of an abandoned baby girl.
★★★☆☆ Natiki (Namaqualand, South Africa) – Parminder Nagra
An African version of Cinderella.
★★☆☆☆ The Mantis and the Moon (San, South Africa) – Forest Whitaker
A mantis tries to capture the moon.
★★☆☆☆ How Hlakanyana Outwitted the Monster (Nguni, South Africa) – Sean Hayes
How Hlakanyana outwitted the hare was more interesting than him outwitting the monster.
★★☆☆☆ The Message (Namibia) – Charlize Theron
Greed leads to the garbling of a message of comfort and hope into one that compounds grief and desolation.
★★★☆☆ The Wolf Queen (Cape Malay) – Benjamin Bratt
A girl requests a silver dress, then a gold one, then a diamond dress to put off having to reject the sultan’s marriage proposal as she was already in love with another. She eventually shapeshifts with the help of a wolfskin.
★★★☆☆ The Snake Chief (West Africa/Zululand, South Africa) – Scarlet Johansson
Never make bargains you don’t intend to fulfil, especially if it involves gifting a family member to a stranger, the snake. Luckily it was a Frog Prince story – the snake turns into a human because a virtuous girl had accepted him.
★★★★☆ King Lion’s Gifts (Khoi, Southern Africa) – Ricardo Chavira
How the animals came to look and sound the way they do. The King Lion bestowed gifts such as suits and laughs upon them.
★★☆☆☆ Words As Sweet As Honey from Sankhambi (Venda, South Africa) – Debra Messing
How monkeys gained their muscular physique.
★★★☆☆ Sakunaka, the Handsome Young Man (Zimbabwe) – LeTanya Richardson Jackson
Great narrator. A selfish mother depriving her son of a wife for fear of losing him to another woman. Sad that the mother had to die. Why couldn’t she live with or near her son after he’d married?
★★★★☆ Wolf and Jackal and the Barrel of Butter (Cape Dutch) – Hugh Jackman
Awesome narration. Poor wolf didn’t know he’d been hoodwinked by the Jackal.
★★★★☆ The Guardian of the Pool (Central Africa/Zululand, South Africa) – Gillian Anderson
A daughter uses her mother’s multiple sacrifices to keep her child alive to give her the strength to take a risk to save her mother’s life. Another Frog Prince story.
★★★☆☆ Sannie Langtand and the Visitor (South African English) – C.C.H. Pounder
Excellent narration. Time travel. Dragonflight. Flying carpets.
★★★★☆ The Sultan’s Daughter (Cape Malay) – Blair Underwood
Excellent narrator. Lovely story and moral; doing a kindness when there is no chance of reward.
★★★☆☆ Van Hunks and the Devil (Cape Dutch) – LeVar Burton
Urban legend explaining why there’s smoke around Table Mountain.
★★☆☆☆ The Clever Snake Charmer (Morocco) – Samuel L. Jackson
Great narration. Not as clever as I’d hoped, except for the tiny donkey. He just gives vague answers to riddles and questions posed by the king.
★★☆☆☆ The Enchanting Song of the Magical Bird (Tanzania) – Jurnee Smullett
Children sometimes see and hear truths where adults hear only lies.
★★☆☆☆ The Hare and the Tree Spirit (Xhosa, South Africa) – Sophie Okenado
A girl is struck dumb after unknowingly she was cursed by an old woman who’d tripped over the girl’s rubbish. A hare hoodwinks a man into providing him fresh green meals, until he feels guilty and makes good on the deal he made by helping the girl regain her voice.
★★★★☆ The Mother Who Turned to Dust (Malawi) – Helen Mirren
A unique human origin story.
★★★★☆ Fesito Goes to Market (Uganda) – Don Cheadle
Telling the difference between those who take advantage of you and those who genuinely need help, and overcoming great difficulty to succeed. Great narration.
Niggling downsides to the audio are: narrators are not introduced nor is the origin of the each tale, the stories are in a radically different order to the paperback and not all of the stories in the paperback are bundled into the audio. Ten are missing, five of which can be found on Audible for which I paid an extra £7:
★★★★☆ The Cat Who Came Indoors (Zimbabwe) – Helen Mirren
Even if you’re not a cat lover, you’ll like this origin story of the cat-human relationship.
★★★★☆ The Lion, the Hare, and the Hyena (Kenya) – Alan Rickman
Don’t try to break up a relationship in order to befriend one of your victims, it could turn out badly for you.
★★★☆☆ Spider and the Crows (Nigeria) – Don Cheadle
Greed can make friends into enemies and leave you rich but without allies.
★★★☆☆ Mmadipetsane (Lesotho) – Alfre Woodard
Excellent narration. A disobedient girl dances with danger by encroaching on a monster’s territory despite warnings from her mother, until her luck runs out.
★☆☆☆☆ The Cloud Princess (Swaziland) – Matt Damon
Stockholm Syndrome. Princess wants to marry her captor. He follows her back to her kingdom where the king tries several times to have him murdered until he decides to return to his home. The princess follows and their gifted with a village of people who worship them.
The others found only in the paperback are:
- The Great Thirst (San, South Africa)
- Mmutla and Phiri (Botswana)
- Kamiyo of the River (Transkei, South Africa)
- The Snake with the Seven Heads (Xhosa, South Africa)
- The Hare’s Revenge (Zambia)
*Read as part of The Dead Writers Society’s Around the World challenge.