Rudyard Kipling's Just So Stories was one of the first true children's books in the English language, a timeless classic that continues to delight readers to this day. Beautiful, evocative and playful, the stories of "How the Whale Got His Throat" or "The First Letter Written" paint a magical, primal world. It is also deeply rooted in British colonialism. Kipling saw the Empire as a benign, civilizing force, and his writing can be troubling to modern readers. Not So Stories attempts to redress the balance, bringing together new and established writers of color from around the world to take the Just So Stories back; giving voices to cultures that were long deprived them.
A lifelong fan of science fiction and fantasy, an avid roleplayer and LRPer, an enthusiastic if unskilled swordfighter and a passable cook, David Thomas Moore is the author of several short stories and one roleplaying supplement, and the editor of a number of anthologies. He is the Fiction Commissioning Editor at Rebellion Publishing.
Born and raised in Australia, he lives in Reading in the UK with his wife and daughter.
A collection of stories aimed at decolonising Kipling's Just So Stories. Kipling is always a fascinating one: steeped in Empire and white supremacy, yet constantly yearning for the country and cultures he is fully behind the pillaging of. There is so much to find loathsome about Kipling and yet at his best you can see the brilliant, sensitive writer he could be. And boy could he make phrases. 'The white man's burden' (of bringing his culture and supremacy to everyone else like it or not); 'the female of the species is more deadly than the male'. These concepts get a hell of a workout in this excellent collection. And if you don't really understand what 'decolonising Kipling' means: don't worry, you'll get it.
The collection kicks off with one of the best stories in it: Cassandra Khaw's 'How The Spider Got Her Legs', a depiction of how the spider goes from a creature very like a worm that turns to reinvent herself as a lethal monster in vengeance for the death of her children. Khaw is a genius horror writer and this was very much the point I decided this was in no way a collection for children because the ending is hide-behind-the-sofa horrific.
Some of the stories are direct riffs on Kipling down to the descriptions of the pictures: either new stories in his style like the Khaw or the charming paean to inclusive storytelling "How the Simurgh Won Her Tail" by Ali Nouraei, or retellings of actual Just Sos (eg the fantastic, savage feminist roar of rage 'The Cat Who Walked By Herself' by Achala Upendran). Others are more loosely related, reminding me much more of Plain Tales from the Hills and/or Kipling's ghost stories than the Just So Stories. Pretty much all of them are about power and its abuse--male power, white supremacy, colonialism, slavery. "How the Ants Got Their Queen" by Stewart Hotston is an excoriating fable about the aftereffects of colonialism and the recent history of the Indian subcontinent in particular. The collection ends with the hilarious "How the Camel Got Her Paid Time Off" by Paul Krueger, which is about unionising and capitalism and office culture, and works perfectly with the theme.
Overall this is really excellent. Thought-provoking in multiple directions, blood-boiling, great writing, diverse casts, and there's not a dud in the collection. Highly recommended.
“If you want to make a human being a monster, deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves.”
Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories for Children was published in (1902) and remained a staple in children’s fiction with its allegorical tales for over 100 years. The problem with this is that it was steeped in the cultural traditions and racist oppression of colonial ideation. If people of color were depicted they were in inferior positions as either villains or animals. Not So Stories sets out to reclaim the vision of marginalized people. Fourteen authors from diverse backgrounds come together in this anthology to present a different world view, one that is inclusive and celebratory of the diaspora of people. “Most stories are not just so, she said. Rarely are they pointless. And most lessons need to be lived and can’t be taught, yes?”
As with any collection of works there are those stories that appeal more to different readers. Here is my rating scale:
5 ★ How the Simurgh Won Her Tail by Ali Nouraei How the Spider Got Her Legs by Cassandra Khaw Queen by Joseph E. Cole “Never allow anyone who threatens your freedom to live unscarred, girl. Remind them of what they tried to take from you. And that it comes at a price.”
4.5 ★ How the Ants Got Their Queen by Stewart Hotston
4 ★ How the Tree of Wishes Gained its Carapace of Plastic by Jeannette Ng Saṃsāra by Georgina Kamsika
3.5 ★ Best Beloved by Wayne Santos The Man Who Played With the Crab by Adiwijaya Iskandar How the Snake Lost its Spine by Tauriq Moosa The Cat Who Walked by Herself by Achala Upendran This one was downgraded from 4 stars as it didn’t tell the story I wanted to tell. I know how obnoxious of me. But I wanted Woman to find her freedom without cutting off parts of herself. It also didn’t sit right with me that in order to be released from bondage she had to become an entirely different creature. I guess I was hoping that she would find the strength within herself, a gift she already carried, to attain what she wanted. Strays Like Us by Zina Hutton
3 ★ There is Such Thing as a Whizzy-Gang by Raymond Gates
2.5 ★ Serpent, Crocodile, Tiger by Zedeck Siew How the Camel Got Her Paid Time Off by Paul Krueger
In 1902, Rudyard Kipling wrote Just So Stories, which is now considered a classic of children literature - a classic rooted in colonialism, as Kipling saw the Empire as a civilizing force, the British as superior to the natives. Bringing together writers of color from around the world, Not So Stories is a response to Kipling's work. Here you'll find talking panthers, hidden Nagas, wishing trees, magical snakes, cat stories and more, with none of the unchallenged racism.
How the Spider Got Her Legs by Cassandra Khaw - ★★★★½ Cassandra Khaw is one of my favorite short fiction authors, and I can say that her dark, delightful tale about grief and revenge did not disappoint. Her writing gives me chills.
I want you to imagine this, Best Beloved. Those long decades before Man learned to wring the earth for oil, when the waters were clear, when there was no light in the dark save for the coruscation of a million brightly burning stars.
This is the story of how the Spider, first of her own kind, got her legs from a tiger, befriended a banyan tree and defeated Man, who wanted to colonize the forest. It was a perfect opening for the collection.
Queen by Joseph E. Cole - ★★★½ The old Queen is telling a child - the future queen - how she was separated from her family when she was young, how she was forced to fight her own in an arena, how she learned to survive and escaped. I didn't love the writing, but the ending made up for it. Who is the beast?
Best Beloved by Wayne Santos - ★★★★ This story is set in Singapore in 1856, and it follows Seah Yuan Ching, a Chinese woman who has an important work: she keeps the dead at bay as the seventh lunar month arrives. She is in a relationship with a white man, Adam, but she doesn't know the truth about him; also, the opium wars are beginning, and the dead may have a message for her. I really liked how the main character realized she didn't deserve to live with people who compliment her in ways that are both backhanded and racist ("she's quite articulate for a [racial slur]"), and I loved the ending.
The Man Who Played With the Crab by Adiwijaya Iskandar - ★★★★ A Malay girl and her father keep watch on the shore until a violent stranger, drunk on power, arrives. He is looking for "Pau Amma" (actually Sang Pawana, Protector of the Seas; he can't even learn to say her name right) to kill her because she sunk his ship. I loved seeing the magical aspect of this one.
Saṃsāra by Georgina Kamsika - ★★★★ This story follows a biracial indian woman, who grew up disconnected from her culture because of her white father. Saṃsāra is about reconnecting with your heritage and how immigrants will deal with it differently across generations; it also talked about cultural appropriation. I loved this one, even though it felt somewhat out of place - it did have a supernatural element, but it felt like a contemporary story when all the other stories were either tales or historical fiction.
Serpent, Crocodile, Tiger by Zedeck Siew - ★★ This story had some interesting aspects (the Tiger's story and the mirror scene, mostly), but when I was halfway through I couldn't follow what was happening anymore because of the many time and PoV jumps.
How the Tree of Wishes Gained its Carapace of Plastic by Jeannette Ng - ★★★★★ My favorite story in the collection. I already knew I loved Jeannette Ng's writing from her novel Under the Pendulum Sun, which was one of the most original stories about fae I had ever read, but this was even better. Through the story of the wishing tree, the author tells us the turbulent history of war and colonization (British, then Japanese) of this village (which is not one village - it's Hong Kong). I loved this from the beginning to the end, and the writing was so beautiful and sharp I wanted to highlight and quote every paragraph.
We belong and do not belong; we are our own people until we wish to be our own people. We shall together be one country with two systems, one body with two minds. With that paradox of wishes, we assailed the tree, a monsoon of oranges tangled in its branches, and our red papers choked back its leaves. And so it broke. The branches cracked and the tree of wishes bled a sap as gold as greed.
How the Ants Got Their Queen by Stewart Hotston - ★★★ This is a story about colonialism, its consequences, and how easy it is to become a tyrant, told through the wars between ants and the pangolin. Really liked the writing, even though the story could have been shorter.
How the Snake Lost its Spine by Tauriq Moosa - ★ I almost did not finish this one. It was long, and unlike the other stories, which managed to be tales without talking down to the reader, this one was obvious and predictable.
The Cat Who Walked by Herself by Achala Upendran - ★★★ The main character of this story is the cat, a cat who has always walked by herself, but loves to listen to Woman's music. I really like reading cat stories, and I liked the message of this one, but it definitely needs trigger warnings for self-injury.
Strays Like Us by Zina Hutton - ★★★½ Another cat story! This follows Bastet (yes, the Egyptian cat goddess) as she rescues a kitten. I really liked the way the narration managed to establish the main character as cat and goddess at the same time. Just like Saṃsāra, this story felt a bit out of place, but it was still really interesting.
How the Simurgh Won Her Tail by Ali Nouraei - ★★★★½ An old man is telling his sick niece the story of how the Simurgh won her tail (Persian mythology!), and it was a really sweet tale within a tale. Also, the writing was lovely.
There is Such Thing as a Whizzy-Gang by Raymond Gates - ★★ I... didn't get this one. It was paranormal? Maybe horror? It's set in Australia, and the main character is afraid of something called Whizzy-Gang, who lives in the hedge and assaults animals and people for no reason. It was weird, and not in a good way.
How the Camel Got Her Paid Time Off by Paul Krueger - ★★½ Paul Krueger wrote Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge, which is one of my favorite urban fantasy novels, but this just wasn't that interesting. This story is about capitalism, and why capitalism damages some people to favor others, a message that was also in Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge, but here it overpowered the story, which came off as preachy.
I received a copy of Not So Stories from NetGalley. From the start, I was captivated by the premise. I don’t remember if I ever read Kipling’s Just So Stories, but the idea of authors reacting to his stories and taking the stories back was amazing. I also really adore stories about animals.
The stories are #ownvoices.
These stories were engaging and so much fun to read! I really enjoy reading stories with anthropomorphic animals, however I haven’t been reading them a lot recently. To come across a collection of stories that are so very strong in their inherent diversity was a lovely surprise. I didn’t quite realise that even animal stories are usually told solely from the white person’s perspective, until I read these stories.
I am always intrigued when humans vs. animals stories change perspective, and show that the animals consider the humans to be lesser. Thus, I really like the story Queen, especially, since it wasn’t quite clear who the human and who the animal was at the beginning. Also, the whole vibe of the story was very powerful.
I also adored Best Beloved, as it discussed racism within an interracial relationship, and also discussed the connection that the main character had with ghosts.
Samsara was another beautiful story with a biracial (Indian and English) main character. It portrayed many themes that I myself have thought about, such as why it’s fashionable for white people to wear South Asian clothes, but not for South Asians. I really liked how much this story spoke to me. It felt very empowering.
I’m not a huge cat fan (I am allergic to them) but one of the sweetest stories was Strays Like Us. Bastet, the goddess, is the main character in this story. It deals with her bonding with one of her cats. I loved how they slowly came closer and closer to each other, and how you could see that Bastet was not only helping the cat, but the cat was helping Bastet as well. I had a good giggle about Bastet’s opinions of humans and what she thinks about cats.
There are some ableist phrases in some of the stories, as well as phrases that say there are only two genders.
Not So Stories is a great addition to any child’s bookshelf. The stories are so beautiful and there is so much to them. I think that you could have amazing discussions about them.
As with any anthology, there will be stories that appeal to some readers and not to others, so while not every single piece here resonated with me, the overall tenor was superb. Provocative, challenging and in many cases wonderfully written, these stories take back the myths and legends of several countries and reframe them in their own history and culture, as they should be. Tackling colonialism from the inside/other side and exposing the casual racism and ideas of white possession - of people, countries, resources, even histories - as well as sexism, abduction, slavery and dismissal of indigenous beliefs and cultures, this collection forces readers, particularly - especially - white readers, to face historical acts and contemporary attitudes and see them for what they are. There's no jolly British Empire here - and it's time we stopped framing our past through that idea.
Not So Stories has been one of my most anticipated reads ever since Zedeck Siew announced that he was part of the lineup. I was about to bite the bullet and buy the book when I managed to score a review copy, so YAY!
Not So Stories was compiled as a response to Rudyard Kipling's Just So Stories, which Nikesh Shukla describes in his foreword as "steeped in colonial nostalgia." I don't recall if I've specifically read Just So Stories (which I've recently found on Project Gutenberg) but if it's in the same vein as other Kipling books I've read, I get what he means. Not So Stories tries to recreate a new collection of animal tales from multicultural, multiethnic lenses, "confronting readers with the real harm colonialism did and taking the Just So Stories back." I cannot meaningfully compare the two right now but I will say that this book both succeeds and fails in its intent.
It succeeds because this wonderful collection of short stories does offer a multitude of unique voices, some of which I can personally identify with as a Southeast Asian, and some of which I can recognise and understand as stories from other cultures, none of which revert to the standard white male Christian point of view that I grew up with as an Anglophilic Chinese-Malaysian. Yet, where it fails is in its target audience--although the anthology is purported to be for children, one story has sexual elements unsuitable for younger readers and at least two others have themes that would probably only appeal to adults. Maybe if it had been targetted for "adults who grew up reading the original as children," it would have succeeded on all counts.
Now on to the stories!
Cassandra Khaw opens this anthology with the brilliant How the Spider Got Her Legs. It has a lovely folklorish feel, beautifully lyrical, but is also very, very brutal--not in physical sense, but how it rips away the veils from your eyes to reveal the evils of colonialism. At first, I wondered at "All of them pale, with hair like someone had spun the noon light into threads, eyes like ruptured sea glass", but Spider soon gets the [White] Man to admit that he took the land from "the Man who once lived here" and that his venom makes his victims "slowly wither of self-loathing." It's subtle, easily missed; yet as you read, you come to realise that this is what has been done to us in Malaysia (where Khaw comes from): we learnt to deify the White Man and loath ourselves, until we grew up and realised the lie--they are no better than we are. (5 stars!)
Queen (Joseph E. Cole) brings us into Africa (I presume?) with an inversion of roles: men here are described as beasts, whereas the anthropomorphic animals are the people. There is anger and pain, sorrow and desperation, a fight for life and freedom. There is also the quiet othering of what is usually a central narrative ("when they worship their cruel man-god who makes them eat his flesh and drink his blood, like savages") and harsh accusation against humanity ("... kill one another for paper and pieces of metal and for any number of pointless reasons. You rape the earth, molest the Earth, taking what you desire without thought or consequence"). Yet there is also reconciliation, the Queen who speaks to the princess who would be queen of her tribe. (5 stars!)
Wayne Santos's Best Beloved is one that I resonated with quite a lot, being set in nearby Singapore, but is also the first of the stories that step out of the children's domain into a rather more mature arena. In fact, Best Beloved also seems rather out of style with the other stories in the book. It's very much more contemporary in feel, with a horror/urban fantasy vibe, besides moving away from animal stories into the paranormal, featuring Chinese ghosts, angry spirits and pontianak. (5 stars!)
The next story hops over the causeway to Malaysia. The Man Who Played With the Crab (Adiwijaya Iskandar) has a Stranger trespassing Beting Beras Basah in a bid to find the great crab that wrecked his ship. There's a deliberate garbling of names--Adiwijaya emphasises the lack of effort made by white men to pronounce names from other cultures--and blatant disregard for lives and beliefs that aren't central to whiteness. There is also a sense of heavy resignation ("my kind shall be written away as myths") amidst a tinge of hope ("But your time shall pass too.") There is an amusing hint of an origin story for British perception of Malays and Malay culture in Malaysia--and because I got distracted, here's a link on the mysterious Tasik Pauh Janggi in Beting Beras Basah (in Malay, sorry). (5 stars!)
In Samsara, Georgina Kamsika explores what it means to be bicultural. Should Nina learn to embrace her mother's Indian roots, or should she fight to retain the white-passing privileges inherited from her English father? Must she choose one or the other? Can she not be both? I don't personally have experience in being biracial, but I do relate to her never-quite-fitting in, in my case because I am a "banana"--white on the inside, yellow on the outside. This one, like Best Beloved, dips into the spirit world, instead of the animal one. (Four-ish stars?)
And we finally get to Zedeck Siew's Serpent, Crocodile, Tiger! Other reviews complain that this is three (or more) stories in one. In a way it is--I see the thread that goes through the whole thing, but it's hard to digest. Siew weaves a convoluted story that begins with the river-mother, who makes the crocodiles, the youngest of which becomes a Tiger. This shifts into Were-Tigers and Were-Crocodiles, playing hard and fast with myth and religion, magic and faith, acknowledging the temptation to disregard culture, upbringing and heritage for the feeling of belonging and acceptance, before finally ending up back where he started with the river and the Tiger, and maybe a retribution (but maybe not). The ending feels satisfying, in its own way, but also as if I've missed something. This one isn't explicit, but part of the setting (a girl stays the night, they hang out at the club) might need some navigation with younger readers. (I'm confused. And conflicted. Four stars?)
How the Tree of Wishes Gained its Carapace of Plastic by Jeannette Ng was like a peek into a culture I'm supposed to be of, but I've never really identified with. I spent much of the time wondering whether the Tree of Wishes was located in Hong Kong, or if this was some other harbour, a village that worships dragons of the sea, "the price paid to buy peace" that becomes part of an "empire so vast that the sun never set upon their queen's soil". Ng returns to the beautiful style that Khaw uses effectively at the beginning of this anthology, tangling history with modernism and progress. I really want to know who Old Man Uncle is. (4 stars.)
After all that good stuff, Stewart Hotston's How the Ants Got Their Queen felt just a little too labourious to get through. It's mainly a powerplay between the ants and the pangolins anyway, with a lot of eaten ants. (I probably didn't get much out of this story as you can tell. Two... three stars, maybe?)
Tauriq Moosa returns us to fantastical animal tales in How the Snake Lost its Spine. I was amused by "the White Devils from distant lands" (Northern Mountains) who believed themselves "first and chosen, those who most resembled the Creators though no one knew what the Creators actually looked like" whilst the "Others, Those Below, Those Far Away" were believed "to be a mistake". There's no hiding that this part at least is allegory, plain and simple, except maybe to the White Devils themselves. (Four stars.)
The Cat Who Walked by Herself (Achala Upendran) is a myth of the origins of the homestead, relating how Man got himself Woman, Dog, Horse and Cow through his might and magic. This one veers out of cultural identity into a more feminist lens, focusing on the power play between Man and Woman. It's a little gory, with many severed limbs, so probably okay for older children. Also, more Woman than Cat, though it's Cat who instigates Woman mostly. (Ah, I'd say four stars.)
Zina Hutton's Strays Like Us meanders into Egyptian territory with Bastet drifting through Miami refusing to be forgotten. This one has hints of American Gods (with a nice reference to Neil Gaiman too!) so it doesn't quite blend in with the rest of the stories either. (Three stars.)
How the Simurgh Won Her Tail (Ali Nouraei) reminds me faintly of Haroun and Luka by Salman Rushdie. Against the backdrop of a children's hospital, Amir tells the story of the Simurgh, who sets off on a quest to make herself a tail. The story is charmingly told, juxtaposing the Simurgh's distress at seeing the state of the world with the comfort gained by the children in the Paediatric Oncology Ward. If there is equanimity to be achieved, it is from the words, "This too shall pass." (Five stars!)
Raymond Gates's There is Such Thing as a Whizzy-Gang is another story that doesn't quite fit. It seems to be about a mythical creature from Australia and reads like a Enid Blyton-type pixie/fairy story but it's never quite clear if this Whizzy-Gang actually exists. Oh well, I guess that's the mystery of the story? (Three stars.)
Back to the animals, How the Camel Got Her Paid Time Off (Paul Krueger) seems to be mainly harping about overwork, bad HR practices and recognising religious celebrations of minority cultures. It gives off a kind of hard-boiled detective vibe, without the detective, and features a lot of smoking, pizza and beer. This story will really only appeal to adults so I'm not sure what it's doing in here. (Three stars.)
Overall, I'd say that each individual story in Not So Stories is great on its own (except the ants. What was with the ants?) but the problem is that not all of them fit together quite well in the same book. Where I was expecting a fantastic collection of animal tales for children (or at least tales related to animals), some stories veered off into the paranormal and the mythical, and some into very adult mindsets/settings.
Note: I received a digital copy of this book via NetGalley. I was given the book with no expectation of a positive review and the review is my own.
I have never read the Kipling book this was written in reaction of, but I knew about Kipling’s writing and how rooted in British colonialism it was. So the idea of this anthology reclaiming the narrative really appealed to me!
Right from the title of these stories, I could guess at the content of the original book, up to the structure of the originals, since so many used the “How the x got their x” and many were addressed to “Best Beloved”. I feel like the stories which seemed to stick closer to the originals were the ones I liked least, but they still has a lot to offer.
Obviously this was a very diverse bag of stories and I found a lot of favourites. I was looking forward to the very last, How the Camel Got Her Paid Time Off by Paul Krueger because I had read and loved his novel last year. It was a really cool one to end the anthology, a bit more “fun” because it addressed modern issues that a lot of people will relate to, mainly how corporations are using their employees, but with anthropomorphic characters.
Another one was Strays Like Us by Zina Hutton, about a goddess struggling in the modern world and bonding with a cat. It was really short but I loved it a lot. I also liked how the horror was built in There is Such Thing as a Whizzy-Gang by Raymond Gates.
My favourite of the whole might be Sasara by Georgina Kamsika staring a young woman reconnecting with her mother’s culture as they go to empty their Nana’s house after her passing. It addressed a lot of social issues regarding racism and being mixed-race with a white parent.
I loved the stories that addressed colonialism as well and showed the horror of it and how awful white people have been. They were stories of revenge like in How the Spider Got Her Legs by Cassandra Khaw (which also made me scared to even think about killing the spider that’s lurking in my bathroom), stories of the supernatural and slow realisation with Best Beloved by Wayne Santos, of the evil and irrational anger of the white men in The Man Who Played With Crab by Adiwijaya Iskandar…
I cannot think of a single story that I didn’t like, from anger to compassion leading to raw emotions, they all had important things to say, either in small or grand scale.
(I understand Kipling’s book is a children book, but I do not think all the stories in this anthology are suited for children, I would recommend to parents to read it alone first and see which one they want to share with their progeny later. But I guess it’s still better to let any child read this than the Kipling one!)
Table of content How the Spider Got Her Legs, Cassandra Khaw Queen, Joseph E. Cole Best Beloved, Wayne Santos The Man Who Played With Crab, Adiwijaya Iskandar Sasara, Georgina Kamsika Serpent, Crocodile, Tiger, Zedeck Siew How The Tree of Wishes Gained its Carapace of Plastic, Jeanette Ng How the Ants Got Their Queen, Steward Hotston How the Snake Lost its Spine, Tauriq Moosa The Cat Who Walked by Herself, Achala Upendran Strays Like Us, Zina Hutton How the Simurgh Won Her Tail, Ali Nouraei There is Such Thing as a Whizzy-Gang, Raymond Gates How the Camel Got Her Paid Time Off, Paul Krueger
I received an ARC through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
“Because every day of freedom is a small act of victory against those who would rob you of it.”
Not So Stories is a response to Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling that I confess I have never read, but according to the blurb, it’s a book rooted in British colonialism. Even without knowing this information, it is clear that the stories in Not So Stories are all against the different aspects of colonialism, explotiation and racism. While I sometimes felt like I lacked context for the stories, I still enjoyed reading them.
I’m not going to write an individual review for every story, but I’m going to list my favourites from the collection:
🐈 queen by joseph e. cole (this is the one the quote I started with is from)
🐈 best beloved by wayne santos
🐈 saṃsāra by georgina kamsika
🐈 the cat who walked by herself by achala upendran
🐈 how the simurgh won her tail by ali nouraei
🐈 how the camel got her paid time off by paul krueger
This incredible anthology is an answer to Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories. Each story is its own vibrant take on the allegories, some more directly than others. They reclaim these narratives and challenge the racism in Kipling’s work.
All of these stories were wonderful and brought something unique to the table, but there were a few that really stood out for me.
Saṃsāra by Georgina Kamsika tells a rich, melancholy story of a biracial child who has been disconnected from part of her culture due to the influence of racism and her white father. It explores this theme through the lens of grief and familial love. The prose was profoundly gorgeous.
Best Beloved by Wayne Santos was a stunning and chilling story highlighting the evil, racist actions of the British Empire both on a large scale and individually, and their undoing via cultural customs they so often sneered at. I fell in love with it.
Queen by Joseph E. Cole and The Cat Who Walked by Herself by Achala Upendran delved into the realm of anthropomorphic animals. Both were incredibly beautiful, telling two very different stories about slavery and the path to freedom and revolution.
I love this book and I highly recommend picking up a copy. It’s very important and more than worth it!
Not So Stories is a delightfully diverse collection of stories based on myths, legends, folktales from around the world. A lot of them involve animal anthropomorphism often to depict human cruelty (like George Orwell's Animal Farm), deplorable colonialist attitudes and power structures within relationships and communities. This book is a direct repudiation of Rudyard Kipling's Just So Stories with its colonialist justifications. This creates a whole new debate of its own where literary 'classics' or mainstream culture such as Dr Suess cartoons or Agatha Christie novels have obvious racist content: do we wholescale reject the work or call it a product of its time?
The anthology starts off very strongly and the first three stories knocked my socks off: How the Spider Got Her Legs by Cassandra Khaw, Queen by Joseph E. Cole and Best Beloved by Wayne Santos. Of all the authors featured, I had only read Cassandra Khaw and Jeannette Ng before (Rupert Wong series and Under The Pendulum Sun respectively). There is a common refrain of "Best Beloved" which I gather is from Kipling's original work but evokes in my fantasy reading mind Robin Hobb's Fool addressing Fitz. Unfortunately as with most anthologies, it was uneven and I got mired in some of the stories in the middle which resulted in this book being picked up and put down periodically. I'd also like to mention that each story was accompanied by a black and white illustration which is a great idea but the stick drawings seem to have been done haphazardly and without much care.
So this poor book languished for quite a bit before my guilt in having to finish a review for Netgalley pushed me to finish it and to my surprise, I had actually been quite near the end. The last few stories (There is Such Thing as a Whizzy-Gang and How the Camel Got Her Paid Time Off ) were fairly underwhelming but I'll always remember that frisson of excitement and energy I felt reading those first few brilliant stories. There were a few in the middle that were pretty good like Samsara by Georgina Kamsika and How the Tree of Wishes Gained its Carapace of Plastic by Jeannette Ng. In truth I would need to go back and re-read the whole book again to give it a more thorough review.
Overall, I feel like this is an important book with important voices and tales to be heard. It may make some people squirm because of its unflinching look at the effects of colonialism but too often mainstream literature has celebrated colonialist narratives. The foreword of the book has one of the most articulate treatise I've ever read of why we need diverse representation in literature and media. Thanks to Netgalley and Abaddon Books for this ARC in exchange for an unbiased review.
Finally, we come to Not So Stories, an anthology commenting in the most obvious of fashions upon Rudyard Kipling's classic (and classically racist) Just So Stories. I admired the goal of this anthology enough to request an advance copy through NetGalley, and I'm glad I did. Here, Australian author and anthologizer David Thomas Moore gathers together a number of authors, many of them known primarily as short story writers and few of them currently in possession of published novel-length works, and unleashes them upon Kipling with the goal of producing a diverse, spirited update of the original.
(Note:I received an advanced reader copy of this book courtesy of NetGalley)
I thought that I was only going to get a collection of tales closely resembling the original Just-So Stories of Kipling, albeit freed of their original orientalist and colonial baggage. While there are indeed a few stories here that do precisely that, not only do none of those do so in the precise same way but they are only a part of the stories assembled here. The other stories take a wide variety of different tracks - as they should. After all, what better way to engage a Rudyard Kipling classic written in the imperial-colonial lens than by responding with tales that are as diverse as all of the backgrounds and cultures that their respective writers represent?
For me, this was just an absolute delight of a read, with each individual story bringing a completely unique experience to enjoy and reflect upon.
The tone and underlying agenda of this book really bother me. It is a genuine shame because the cover and the writing are quite engaging. Then I get into it and find revisionist history at work. Kipling was who he was; he and his work are a product of the times. How do we learn from history if we erase it? I could see writing an annotated version of Just So Stories to make the commentary, since I see little else here.
Even though there is indication that these stories are for children, they most certainly do not read as such in their content or vocabulary. If the purpose is genuinely to produce multicultural, inclusive stories for our children, the writers assembled here certainly seem to have the capability to do that without destroying Kipling in the process.
As with all anthologies, it's a mixed bag. Some stories I loved, others I didn't overly care for. But they were all good. I think this is definitely worth picking up. The stories are a great new, diverse take on a problematic "classic."
Not So Stories edited by David Thomas Moore is an anthology in conversation with Rudyard Kipling's Just So Stories, with stories shining a light on (mostly British) colonialism and its legacies. (I really like how this idea is conveyed through the union jacks on the cover.) If you've been following along my blog and my #ReadShortStories posts you will have seen me slowly making my way through these stories. The individual story reviews are reproduced at the end of this review, but first I will talk about the anthology as a whole.
This anthology contained an interesting mix of stories and authors of different backgrounds, including a lot of new-to-me authors. Most of the stories tackled colonial themes in one way or another and most of them took cues from Just So Stories (mind you, I haven't read the other book since I was a child and even then I'm not sure I read all of it, so my opinion on that point is unreliable). A lot of the stories engaged with difficult themes and were emotionally challenging to read, which is why I found myself breaking up the anthology with other unrelated short stories and a couple of novels.
My favourite stories, in table of contents order, were: "How the Spider Got Her Legs" by Cassandra Khaw, which did the thing where the starting situation was quite far from what we now think of as the status quo and made the story more interesting for it; "Best Beloved" by Wayne Santos, which was heartbreaking and powerful; "How the Tree of Wishes Gained its Carapace of Plastic" by Jeannette Ng, which was told on a grander scale than the other stories for all that it focussed on a specific tree; "The Cat Who Walked by Herself" by Achala Upendran, which was also heartbreaking and which ended in a way I didn't foresee from the start. As you can see, I liked a lot of the stories. Some didn't grab me as much, but that's to be expected in an anthology.
By the time I got to the end of the anthology, I did find the arrangement of the stories a little peculiar. Not only was it odd to find the only two cat-centric stories next to each other, but I also found the last few stories engaged with ideas of colonialism a lot less strongly than the earlier stories. That didn't necessarily make them bad stories, but a lot of the last part of the anthology didn't feel like it fit in with what the first part had set the book up to be. I think it would have worked better if the stories had been more intermixed and set up the expectation of varying engagement with colonial ideas earlier. As it was, I felt faintly confused reading three of the last four stories, even though they were perfectly fine stories in their own right.
Overall this anthology was filled with solid stories that I wouldn't hesitate to recommend to anyone interested in the themes and ideas it explores. The authors come from a variety of backgrounds so the anthology does not lack in diversity on that front. (It could have stood to be a bit more gender diverse, however.) I very much like the concept of Not So Stories and recommend it to all readers to whom the basic premise appeals.
How the Spider Got Her Legs by Cassandra Khaw — Probably my favourite Khaw story so far. Told in the style of Kipling/traditional children’s cosmology stories as suggested by the title. It was also a bit longer and more complicated than I might have expected with a few acts to the story rather than just one simple origin explanation of how the spider got her legs. Anyway, I rather liked it.
Queen by Joseph E. Cole — A story about slavery and human cruelty. Not exactly an enjoyable read but not a bad story either. It didn’t particularly grab me but it was still told in an evocative way (and I think I spotted several references to Just So Stories).
Best Beloved by Wayne Santos — A Singaporean guardian of the living against the dead has taken up with a British official while still finding time for her duties. Until those duties become more difficult and she learns more of what the British are up to. A powerful story of love and devastation.
The Man Who Played With the Crab by Adiwijaya Iskandar — A father and daughter come across a westerner killing animals and demanding to be taken to their sacred crab so that he can kill it. A story that’s about as positive as possible, given colonial history.
Saṃsāra by Georgina Kamsika — A story set in the present day about a mixed race teenager reconnecting with her Indian heritage as she and her mother clean out her late grandmother’s home. It feels a bit out of place among the other Not So Stories I’ve read so far, but then so does the protagonist in her life, and maybe that’s the point.
Serpent, Crocodile, Tiger by Zedeck Siew — This is more like a few stories that ended up being tied together in a way I didn’t predict from the start. It tells Malay folktales as well as giving a few different modern perspectives on the tales and on the people having perspectives. It gives an interesting cross-section of views and various cultural influences. I enjoyed it although I found the sections that were academic excerpts a little too dry.
How the Tree of Wishes Gained its Carapace of Plastic by Jeannette Ng — A story telling the history of a wishing tree in Hong Kong and, by necessity, the history of the people and the place. A sweeping story of gods and history told in the style of a bedtime story. I enjoyed it.
How the Ants Got Their Queen by Stuart Hotston — A clear metaphor for colonialism, it’s ills and aftermath. Although the story was not subtle, I still found myself enjoying it. And the direction of the ending was not overly telegraphed, which was nice. Not a cheerful story (of course), but a good read.
How the Snake Lost its Spine by Tauriq Moosa — As you can guess from the title, this is another creature-origin type story. I liked the ideas in it, but I didn’t find it to be as strong as some of the others. The writing could have been tighter where I found it a little dull in places. Not bad overall, just not one of the best.
The Cat Who Walked by Herself by Achala Upendran — This story is about how common domesticated animals, as well as Man and Woman found their place. I found this story quite upsetting in how it just kept escalating in patriarchal (not sure that’s the right word) terribleness. The ending was satisfying but didn’t erase what went before.
Strays Like Us by Zina Hutton — A story about Bastet, the Egyptian cat goddess, who no longer has a place in the world, and a stray kitten. The story was fine, but I’m not sure how well it fits with the other stories in the anthology. It put me more in mind of various forgotten/unworshipped god stories more than colonialism per se.
How the Simurgh Won Her Tail by Ali Nouraei — A lovely story within a story. A grandfather visiting his sick (cancer, I think) granddaughter in hospital and telling her the titular story. It was very heartwarming, despite the depressing hospital setting and the hints of life outside the hospital.
There is Such Thing as a Whizzy-Gang by Raymond Gates — A story about a boy in Australia, his uncle that likes to (mostly) benevolently tease him and the Whizzy-Gang that attacks him. Not a bad read, but I didn’t really spot any direct engagement with colonialism.
How the Camel Got Her Paid Time Off by Paul Krueger — If not for the title itself, this story would feel quite unresolved, which I have mixed feelings about. I didn’t mind the story overall, but I again didn’t find it to be quite what I expected. It’s about animals fighting (or not) for worker rights.
Not So Stories edited by David Thomas Moore takes Rudyard Kipling's Just So Stories and flips it on it's head. With 12 stories from diverse authors, that redirect the subtext of the Empire and British Colonialism in Just So Stories, to stories that embrace independence and mock the empire. This book is not as kid friendly as the original, but would still fall in the Young Adult category as far as content goes. These stories like the original work on one level but are filed with subtext. The collection is a good mix of stories I felt some fit perfectly, but a couple of the tales were a stretching a bit to include them. In anticipation for this review I read the original Just So Stories, where as before I had read a story here or there. I would recommend reading that collection so you will get all the references in this book, it is not required but will add to some of the stories. I reviewed each tale separately to give each author their due. Out of the 12 stories I rated 5 stories with 5 stars, 4 stories with 4 stars, 1 story 3 stars and 2 stories 2 stars. Thanks to Netgalley and Abaddon Books for letting me read this Advanced copy. Not So Stories was published on January 21 2020.
The Plots and Reviews: How the Spider Got Her Legs by Cassandra Khaw is a story that would have fit into the original Just So Stories. Where a spider born with one leg gets 8 and becomes poisonous. It used "to my beloved" too much as it was more mocking than acknowledging the original text. The story was fun a good opener. I rated this story 3 out of 5 stars.
Queen by Joseph Elliott-Coleman This was a fantastic story, more young adult than middle grade. This story involves a captured panther that is forced to fight other Panther's. a good story with a lot of subtext and allegories to slavery. 5 out of 5 stars. This may be the stand out story.
Best Beloved by Wayne Santos I don't know if this story really fit, it is about a man saying "Beloved" a term Kipling would often repeat at the beginning. The story is a man working for the East India Trading Company gets a girlfriend in China that he is very controlling, the girlfriend has an interesting job putting seals up so ghost don't break through, but one does . A good story, good ending 4 out of 5
The Man Who Played With the Crab by Adiwijaya Iskandar was my least favorite so far it was uneven and felt longer than it was. It was about a fisherman seeking revenge on a giant crab, he takes a father and son hostage as they can reach this particular crab. I rated this story 2 out of 5 stars
Samsāra by Georgina Kamsika is a truly great story, where Nina visits her dead Grandmother's home and finds out why she stopped visiting. A really good story of acceptance of death and one's self. I don't know if this story belonged in this collection, but it was fantastic. 5 out of 5 stars.
Serpent, Crocodile, Tiger by Zedeck Siew I loved the first part of this story, then it got hard to understand what is going on, at the end of is explained where the story comes from which really helps. The story is a crocodile trucks his mom to explore away from the river, and he turns into a tiger, but also can resemble a man? I rated this story 2 out of 5 stars.
How the Tree of Wishes Gained its Carapace of Plastic by Jeannette Ng this was a short one, but I enjoyed it. I did wonder for a bit where this one was going, but the ending really tied it up and have the story meaning. This story highlights on the weight of wishes, both figuratively and literally. I rated this story 4 out of 5 stars.
How the Ants Got Their Queen by Stewart Hotston a really clever story about the rise and overthrow of a dictator, to realize maybe they need a dictator for some time. This was my favorite so far. I rated this story 5 out of 5.
How the Snake Lost its Spine by Taurus Moosa this was another clever story and one that truly fit this collection. The great snake used to have a spine making it tall, it could see danger coming and protected the other animals from the white devils (man). But one day the lion worked out a plan with man to trick the snake to betrayal. I rated this book 5 out 5 stars.
The Cat Who Walked by Herself by Achala Upendran this is a direct throwback to the original story of the Cat Who Walked by Himself in Just So Stories. The characters are the same but now the cat is female, and the situation is different. This time man is trying to domesticate an independent woman the cat see this and tries to help. I rated this story 5 out of 5 stars.
Strays Like Us by Nina Hutton a story of a long forgotten cat God finally being seen again. I thought this story was okay, there's a really good scene where the cat God gets a hotel that is not cat friendly. I like what the story says on independence and domestication. I rated this story 4 out of 5.
How the Simurgh Won Her Tail by Ali Nouraei a really sweet story about a grandfather visiting his sick granddaughter and telling stories. The granddaughter is in a cancer ward and he tells a story that relates to there struggles. This story was easy to follow and got all the right notes. I rated this story 5 out of 5.
There is Such Thing as a Whizzy-Gang by Raymond Gates is an Australian tale, about and Uncle telling his young nephew to look out for the Whizzy-gang, by the shrub in the front lawn. It is a story asking if your imagination can create something real. I enjoyed this simple story. I rate this story 4 out of 5 stars.
How the Camel Got Her Paid Time Off by Paul Krueger one of the more contemporary pieces. This story acknowledges two Just So Stories How the Camel Got His Hump and The Elephant's Child. This story lies heavily on puns, some land while others do not. I liked this story but did not enjoy the ending, I rated this story 4 out of 5 stars."
What I Liked: The variety of stories really really stuck out to me. The prologue to the book was really insightful to Kipling's Just So Stories, especially the subtext, and to why this new collection had to be made. I liked the stories that gave odes to the original text like The Cat Who Walked by Herself and How the Camel Got Her Paid Time Off. both tales offered fresh takes while acknowledging the original.
What I Disliked: Only one story attempted the rhyming pattern and the repetition of words that Kipling did for every story in the original. The story were not written to be read out loud. I would have rearranged the order of the stories the book seems to go old to contemporary time, but this allowed some of the stories not to gel. The last half of the book had the better more consistent pieces.
Recommendations: I will recommend you check out this collection even if you haven't read Just So Stories. I got a lot out of the stories, most are fun with all stories having that extra layer of subtext that really makes you feel the importance of the work. I rated No So Stories 4 out of 5 stars.
Not So Stories is a collection that’s working off the legacy of Kipling’s famous Just So Stories, which is a classic children’s book deeply rooted in colonialism. Not So Stories addresses this problematic legacy by creating an anthology of fable-like stories all by authors of color, from the colonized nations Kipling was writing about.
I know I read Just So Stories as a child, but I can hardly remember anything about it. As a result, some of these stories may have nuances or connections to Kipling’s work that I am missing.
The collection opens with “How the Spider Got Her Legs” by Cassandra Khaw, which was excellent. Cassandra Khaw was one of the reasons I picked up Not So Stories to begin with, as I am a big fan of her work. As I would expect, the writing is absolutely lovely. It’s a very emotional story that’s thematically centered around motherhood.
“Queen” by Joseph E. Cole was another story I highly enjoyed. The story follows a lioness who’s telling her life’s tale, which involves being captured by humans and forced to fight other lions in an arena. The story as a whole works as a metaphor for slavery, with the language and description being such that you don’t immediately realize the narrator is a lion.
“How the Ants Got Their Queen” by Stewart Hotson is another fable that uses animals to explain colonialism and oppression. It sort of that story by E. Lily Yu — “The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees” — which deals with some of the same concepts, only using bees and wasps instead of ants and anteaters. Still, I thought “How the Ants Got Their Queen” was a strong addition to Not So Stories.
My other favorite of the anthology was “The Cat Who Walked by Herself” by Achala Upendran, which I strongly suspect is drawing off of a Kipling story I can’t remember. In this story, Woman lives a carefree life with her friends Dog, Horse, and Cow, singing and wandering the forest, until she’s kidnapped by Man. With Cat’s help, she plots a way to be free. (TW: self harm)
I didn’t find any of the other stories in the collection as strong. I was really looking forward to Jeannette Ng’s story (her name is part of why I picked up Not So Stories), but “How the Tree of Wishes Gained Its Carapace of Plastic” left me cold. Maybe I loved her book so much that my expectations were too high? “How the Tree of Wishes Gained Its Carapace of Plastic” tells local history through the focus on a tree where people attach their wishes.
“Best Beloved” by Wayne Santos wasn’t one of the best stories in Not So Stories, but I think it’s in the top half. Unlike some of the others, I don’t know if it could be considered a children’s story. Maybe young adult? Anyway, the story follows Seah Yuan Ching, who keeps the restless undead away from Hong Kong but is distracted from her duties by her British lover, Adam. As a reader, it takes no time at all to figure out that Adam’s full of shit…. and then he turns out to be even more rotten than you suspected.
Most of the other stories in Not So Stories were fairly forgettable. “Samsā ra” by Georgina Kamsika is about a girl who realizes she’s been rejecting her own heritage in order to appeal to a white culture. “The Man Who Played with the Crab” by Adiwijaya Iskandar follows a father and daughter who are guardians of their goddess but who are threatened and endangered when a white, Kipling-esque adventurer shows up, determined to kill the goddess. “How the Snake Lost Its Spine” by Tauriq Moosa is what it says in the title. “Serpent, Crocodile, Tiger” by Zedeck Siew is a confusing intermingling of three related stories that ultimately felt too long. “Strays Like Us” by Zina Hutton is about Bastet in modern day USA taking in a stray kitten. “There Is Such Thing as a Whizzy-Gang” by Raymond Gates is a creepy little story that I can’t see how fits in with the collection’s themes of Kipling and colonialism. “How the Simurgh Won Her Tale” by Ali Nouraei uses the frame story of a grandfather telling his sick granddaughter Lilly stories as she receives dialysis. “How the Camel Got Her Paid Time Off” by Paul Krueger takes a very different approach from the others, having camel try to organize other animals to demand action and reforms from HR.
Not So Stories isn’t a great collection — the ratio of stories I loved to stories I was “eh” about wasn’t enough for that. But it’s not a bad collection either. I found the aim of the collection admirable, and there’s still great stories to be had here.
I received an ARC in exchange for a free and honest review.
*I received a free ARC of this book, with thanks to the author, Abaddon Books – Rebellion Publishing and NetGalley. The decision to review and my opinions are my own.*
This a very varied collection of stories centred around mythology and cultural legends, each told by a different author and in a different style, but there wasn’t a single story I didn’t enjoy here.
Each author has taken Rudyard Kipling’s anthology of Just So Stories as their touchstone, but then taken their own individual paths, allowing their voices to take, mould and reshape those colonial narratives into something that speaks to their own experiences, rather than those of a cultural ‘tourist’ – seeing, perhaps admiring, but not understanding.
Diversity doesn’t only apply to the authors here then, but to their work. Some have chosen to follow the original style of Kipling’s stories (O Best Beloved), but forged their own path of content and morals. Others kept the parable nature but with a style all of their own, for example using the language of a modern employment dispute.
There are underlying unifying themes though too. Obviously there is a common thread of the destructive appropriation of the white man as he colonises native land and culture, and the more subtle effect of creeping Westernisation as it seeps more insidiously through the world, homogenizing all it touches. There is exploitation; racism, both overt and covert; grief at the loss of tradition to modern values. The main beat thrumming beneath each story is the corrupting nature of power, whether that power takes the form of wealth, status, race, sex, or magic.
As with all of the best short stories, the moral messages here are delivered clearly and loudly, but with all of the trappings and skill required to provide entertainment, not just education. Readers can simply enjoy the fantastical stories of creation mythology, modern parable and even a touch of horror, for what they are. Still, they may find themselves taking away seeds of ideas, from which (hopefully) thoughtful fruits may grow.
In those days, O Best Beloved, before Man knew to dream of cities, when the skin between worlds was thin enough that you could look into death and converse with those who came before you, Tiger had far more stripes than he did today. I am sure you can see where this story is leading, but be patient, Beloved. A denouement is nothing without its narrative.
– Cassandra Khaw, ‘How the Spider Got Her Legs’ in Not So Stories
Thank you to Abaddon Books and NetGalley for my free ebook copy!
Recently, I started an audiobook production of Just So Stories, and I couldn't finish it. I had such fond memories of the stories, but hearing them as an adult created dissonance for me, and I couldn't figure out why. Then I started this collection of stories, and the foreword by Nikesh ShuklaNikesh Shukla struck me:
"The book doesn't age very well. Because it it steeped in colonial nostalgia, and a feeling that the British Empire was a benign part of the lives of those it oppressed. ... In 'How The Leopard Got His Spots,' the line 'The Ethiopian was really a negro, and so his name was Sambo' clangs. Elsewhere the sun is described as having 'more-than-oriental splendor.' And so on. And it's this normalisation of language that makes the original hard to still love and adore."
This collection of stories talks to the Just So Stories. I thought that they would be straight retellings, but it's more than that. They interpret and respond in a way that is thought-provoking, sometimes confusing, and ultimately horizon-broadening. I'm glad to have read them, and they reminded me of the stories in the anthologies, A Thousand Beginnings and Endings and The Radical Element.
My favorite stories were:
"Best Beloved" by Wayne Santos "The Cat Who Walked by Herself" by Achala Upendran "Strays Like Us" by Zina Hutton "How the Camel Got Her Paid Time Off" by Paul Krueger
Kipling is a curious figure, English as afternoon tea but also deeply Indian, unsurprising given that he spent half of his first 24 years there and wrote of Mumbai:
Mother of Cities to me,
For I was born in her gate
Between the palms and the sea
Where the world-end steamers wait.
He had a deep attachment to India, albeit that of the coloniser for the country more than the ‘new-caught sullen peoples, half devil and half child.’ Kipling wrote of his ayah and other servants telling him stories and the influence of animal tales from ancient India (the Jataka Tales and the Panchatantra) is clearly seen in the style of the collection of children’s fables known as the Just-So stories.
Not So Stories retell and interprets the original premise in a number of inventive ways.
Few remember now that Kipling was awarded a Nobel, in the presentation speech it was said of him that ‘He has undoubtedly done more than any other writer of pure literature to draw tighter the bonds of union between England and her colonies.’
The time seems right for a reworking of Kipling and this collection, though not for children, would be great for adolescents beginning to reevaluate the English history they’ve been taught, particularly with regard to the relationship with ‘her colonies’
There is a South-east and East Asian emphasis with marvellous tales like The Tree of Wishes, The Man Who Played With the Crab and the astonishing Serpent, Crocodile, Tiger. My favourite tale, The Cat Who Walked By Himself is exquisitely and devastatingly retold here as The Cat Who Walked By Herself.
A group of authors of colour come together in this collaborative collection of stories to take back stories that were recorded with a colonialistic lens (as would be read in Kipling's Just So Stories. From the very first story, it is clear that the reclamation of these stories is necessary, needed, as we can feel the stamp of the storytelling forms passed down from generation to generation within each author's culture.
Each story swells with allegorical reference in the ways in which the colonized were (are) viewed, exploited, and treated by the colonial machine: cultures were stripped, ways of life disrupted and destroyed, using their bodies for sport, labour, and abuse, eroding their beliefs, sparking civil wars and wars of conquest in an attempt to absorb, alter or eradicate.
There is power in having these tales retold by the descendants of those who came before- who were slighted, dismissed, and violated- injects each myth, folktale/folklore with the authenticity that was stripped away so as to be made palatable to the colonizers.
I wholly support the idea of this collection of fable-like stories, inspired by Kipling's Just So Stories, but written from multiple cultural points of view in order to rectify a post-Colonialist, imperialist bias. However, if I hadn't read the Foreward I don't think I would have realized that was the objective. I recognize Kipling in the constant direction to "Best Beloved," and judging by how many of these characters soil themselves out of fear, I assumed that must have happened in Just So Stories as well, though I personally don't remember it. I read Kipling to my kids when they were littles, I wouldn't share these Not So Stories until they reach their teens at least; and to be honest I would only recommend it to a Lydia Deetz kind of teenager (a la Beetlejuice). I especially liked the tone of the first story: How the Spider Got Her Legs by Cassandra Khaw; and the two stories Strays Like Us by Zina Hutton and How the Camel Got Her Paid Time Off by Paul Krueger both remind me a bit of David Sedaris's Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk.
I received an ARC from Netgalley for an honest review.
This anthology of short stories is in response to Rudyard Kipling’s “Just So Stories” written 100 years ago. I remember reading those stories as a child, but it’s been years. These stories are meant to break the stereotypes portrayed in those earlier stories of the people’s and cultures that the West (in Kipling’s case Britain) had colonized, and are based in mostly South Asia and African culture.
It’s hard to rate a book of stories, they have different authors, different writing styles, and some were just weird. There were a couple that I really loved: Best Beloved, Samsara, and How the Simurgh Won Her Tail. The art work was not my favorite.
A word of warning, these are definitely not child friendly.
Thank you to Netgalley and the publishers for a chance to review this work.
An intriguing idea... stories by authors of colour offering a post-colonial take on Kipling. The stories are very varied in style, some going for a fable-like feel, others more contemporary, and some - like How the Simurgh Won her Tail by Ali Nouraei and How the Tree of Wishes Gained its Carapace of Plastic by Jeannette Ng - blend both to great effect. Some simmer with anger, like Queen by Joseph E Cole, while others are more playful and humorous, like How the Camel Got Her Paid Time Off by Paul Krueger, and still others are spine-chilling, like Best Beloved by Wayne Santos.
All are entertaining and thought-provoking. My one criticism of the anthology is that there aren't enough stories in it- I would quite happily read twice as many!
This anthology includes short stories set in different time periods and mythologies. Some protagonists are animals, some are ghosts, some are humans. Some stories appealed more to me than others, but every single one provided something I liked. All the people who contributed to this are very talented, and I really like how different all the stories are. You never know what the next tale will bring, where it will send you, what kind of people you'll be meeting.
To be honest, I liked this more than the Just So Stories, but I did not grow up with those, so there is no nostalgia to influence my opinion.
This anthology is a blast. It is well written and have a bit of everything for everyone. Small simple cute stories about different animals and their struggles. Creepy, almost scary, tales of childrens imagination. Stories filled with suspence. All of them page turners.
It made me wonder and think of colonialism and realize how many cultures and stories from said cultures I want to get to know and learn more about that I had not heard of or thought much of before.
I can highly reccomend it for people that want small chunks at a time and people that want to experience and find new authours they have not read before as I clearly found some new writers to look around for.
I grew up being read the Just So Stories as a child, and absolutely adored them. Revisiting them as an adult challenged my earlier perceptions. I found this book in a book shop and immediately had to buy it, I wanted to see how these authors had reimagined Kiplings tales and how they would resonate with me now as an adult.
I should say at once, I wouldn't recommend this book for young children, some of the stories are pretty dark. I didn't enjoy them all, but I did like the style and differences between them. My personal favourite was The Cat Who Walked by Herself.
A charming collection of stories that are definitely a thumbed nose to Kipling's 'Just So' stories - and delightfully done. My particular favourite was Achala Upendran's 'The Cat Who Walked by Herself' - a very powerful story. I also enjoyed Stewart Hotston's 'How the Ants Got Their Queen' and Ali Nouraei's 'How the Simurgh Won Her Tail'.