*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.*
Blurb: 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 How the First Letter Was Written paint a world of magic and wonder.
It’s also deeply rooted in British colonialism. Kipling saw the Empire as a benign, civilising force, in a way that’s troubling to modern readers. Not So Stories attempts to redress the balance, bringing together new and established writers of colour from around the world to take the Just So Stories back, to interrogate, challenge and celebrate their legacy.
Including stories by Adiwijaya Iskandar, Joseph Elliott-Coleman, Raymond Gates, Stewart Hotston, Zina Hutton, Georgina Kamsika, Cassandra Khaw, Paul Krueger, Tauriq Moosa, Jeannette Ng, Ali Nouraei, Wayne Santos and Zedeck Siew, illustrations by Woodrow Phoenix and an introduction by Nikesh Shukla.
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
You can find more from the authors (and editor) in this collection by following the individual links that follow, and you can buy Not So Stories on Amazon right now.