Reading The Adventures of Yemima is to be welcomed into the home of a large friendly family, to sit before the hearth, to shares tales of joy and woe. The late author, Abraham Soyer, was a Hebrew scholar who emigrated from Russia and brought his family to America. The originally published these gentle tales in Hebrew more than 40 years ago. Now, in a new edition, translated by his daughter, Rebecca S. Beagle and daughter-in-law Rebecca Soyer, and illustrated by his son, the celebrated American artist Raphael Soyer, and illustrated by his son, the celebrated American artist Rephael Soyer, these marvelous tales can reach a deservedly wider audience.
The six stories, lovingly told in a beautiful and unhurried way, evoke a world where the magical emerges from the everyday events. It is a realm where little girls can converse with foxes, where foxes can converse with lions and outsmart them, and where an angel of the Lord can enter the house in the guise of an old man in tatters. Virtue is rewarded and greed is punished - with humor. An avarisiouc brother watches in horror as his hoard of riches - gold coins, sheaves of wheat, bunches of grapes and olives - fly away from him into the hands of his righteous and undemanding sister. In every tale, the solution to each dilemma is mercivul and just.
The black-and-white drawings by Raphael Soyer (his first for children) are simple and subdued and have an almost naive quality. The sketches for "Flying Money" are particularly evocative and magical. It should be noted that, in an era of diminishing publishing standards, this is a very beautifully produced book. Superbly printed on fine paper, with excellent typographic design and handsome binding, the finished volume reflects the devotion of the creators of the work.
Sweet and Sour is not a Chinese cookbook but a rich and exotic banquet of traditional tales from China, served with wit and charm, spiced with irony. Drawing on a well-documented tradition that sketches back through antiquity. Carol Kendall and Yao-wen Li have retold two dozen stories with freshness and great good humor. The young reader will delight in these ancient tales come to life, filled with adventure and folk magic. Folk wisdom, too, abounds and prevails over human foolishness in its infinite variety.These are moral fables in the best sense and the lessons are taught with subtlety and laughter.
Consider the ten venerable old men who assemble to mark the New Year in "ten jugs of wine." Each is to contribute his measure of wine to the ceremonial warming pot, but each takes his own counsel and finds good reason to substitute water on the sly. When the first toast is sipped, their cordial smiles turn to embarrassed astonishment. Or the very funny "bagged wolf," the story of a young man who rescues a wolf, only to face being devoured by the hungry animal. The thoughtful discussion that ensued between the pair, as they debate the relative merits of being devoured, and then seek animal, vegetable, and human counsel, is quite hilarious.
One strange and beautiful tale, "The Betrothal," tells of the love of a young girl for a handsome white stallion. When the valient and faithful horse is slain the girl excapes the cruel human world and dwells instead in the miniature landscape of the silkworm. Her grief-stricken father finds solace in her beautiful spinning when he eventually discovers her hiding place: "Gradually his vision narrowed until each branch, each twig, each leaf became a small world in itself."
These stories are like small worlds and each contains its own logic and wisdom. As the authors point out in their foreward, traditional Chinese tales, as written in the original calligraphic form, are often terse and epigrammatic. The action of an entire story is sometimes contained within the space of a few lines. Yao-wen Li has provided the translation of the basic texts. Her coauthor, Carol Kendall, has skilfully and judiciously built upon this framework to provide the reader with a series of fully rounded tales. Though this method may not find favor with some folklorists, in this instance it has resulted in a collection of graceful and humorous stories; a thoroughly satisfying introduction to the traditional tales of China.
North American Legends is a grab bag of miscellaneous tales, culled from the vast archives of the Library of Congress. The quality of the material is uneven, but fortunately we at least have the pulsing rhythm of Alice Mariot's rendering of "How Saynday Got the Sun" and fine retellings by Richard Chase, Donnell Van de Voort, and others.
Though a number of stories chosen for this collection are interesting and well written, this volume attempts to encompass so much that is lacks a clear direction or a sense of continuity. Sections of various lengths bring together examples of Indian and Eskimo tales, black American tales, and European tales brought by immigrants.
Tall tales get a nod as well, in the form of the exploits of Pecos Bill and Paul Bunyan. The editor acknowledges the dubious origins of these macho superhereos of American "fake lore." (Bunyan was concocted by a lumber company PR man in 1914.) But it seems unnecessary to include them here, lumped together with authentic tales from rich traditions. It is a bit like encountering Spiderman and The Incredible Hulk in the midst of a Navaho ritual.
Bold black-and-white drawings throughout the book attest to the skill of the artist, Ann strugnell, and her work ground within a strong design framework. The notes and bibliography are useful and point the way toward many worthwhile resource volumes.