Title: A Thousand Beginnings and Endings
Author: Edited by Ellen Oh and Elsie Chapman
Genre: Short story anthology
Published: By Greenwillow Books for Young Readers on June 26th, 2018
Star-crossed lovers, meddling immortals, feigned identities, battles of wits, and dire warnings: these are the stuff of fairy tale, myth, and folklore that have drawn us in for centuries. A mountain loses her heart. Two sisters transform into birds to escape captivity. A young man learns the true meaning of sacrifice. A young woman takes up her mother’s mantle and leads the dead to their final resting place. Fifteen bestselling and acclaimed authors reimagine the folklore and mythology of East and South Asia in short stories that are by turns enchanting, heartbreaking, romantic, and passionate. From fantasy to science fiction to contemporary, from romance to tales of revenge, these stories will beguile readers from start to finish.
I have read books by few of the authors before that are featured in this anthology and decided to give it a try. Since I love stories with Asian rep, especially if inspired by Asian myths, I had hoped to feel the same for this. At the same time, I was apprehensive as short story collections tend to feature both stories that one ends up loving and mediocre ones.
I’ve reproduced below my original notes word-for-word as I had written them after finishing each story –
1. Forbidden Fruit by Roshani Chokshi
Roshani’s whimsical tale of a mountain spirit based on Filipino folklore was the perfect way to start off. It had her quintessential gorgeous prose which makes the reading experience so immersive.
2. Olivia’s Table by Alyssa Wong
Alyssa’s tale juxtaposed a modern world with internet and email with the old world traditions of her Asian heritage. I especially enjoyed the fact that it centred around food and gave me an insight into the beliefs of the Chinese people.
3. Steel Skin by Lori M. Lee
The sci-fi variant of this folktale was a great idea and very well executed. I also didn’t see the plot twist coming and got goosebumps while reading. One of my favourites for sure!
4. Still Star-Crossed by Sona Charaipotra
Although the behaviour of Nick made me a little uncomfortable, all the Punjabi culture and Indian references really made my desi heart sing. It was a beautiful re-imagining of a not-happily-ever-after tale. (Craving chole bhature so badly now!)
5. The Counting of Vermillion Beads by Aliette De Bodard
The whole shape-shifting part was a tad confusing but the rest of the story about the bond between two sisters was amazing! I loved seeing girls doing math in a historical setting even though the circumstances were rather cruel. It pulled me into a different world and I would definitely read a full-length novel based on this story.
6. The Land of the Morning Calm by E.C. Myers
This was my absolute favourites! It incorporated Korean myths into an immersive RPG setting with flawless execution. It was captivating and kept me engaged throughout.
7. The Smile by Aisha Saeed
I liked the feminist spin to a historical tale that I knew next to nothing about. The exploration of love and its meaning sent a powerful message on what equal and healthy relationships should be like. Loved the incorporation of dance and Mughal culture in the story.
8. Girls Who Twirl and Other Dangers by Preeti Chhibber
As Navratri is my favourite festival, I connected with this on a deep personal level. The fever of the festivities and dancing completely transported me to the setting. I also liked how it switched between the myth and the actual story. It really captured the essence of the female warrior spirit.
9. Nothing into All by Renée Ahdieh
This read more like a conventional fairy tale but it had some unique elements that made it so much better. I really liked the character of the sister, Charan. There were some important lessons to be learnt by the end and it warmed my heart.
10. Spear Carrier by Rahul Kanakia
This was on a very philosophical level that I’m not very sure many people can connect with without the necessary background on the Mahabharata and the Bhagavad Gita. I enjoyed the concept but I didn’t like the writing style used for the story.
11. Code of Honour by Melissa de la Cruz
A story based on the Filipino aswang, this was more reminiscent of the older YA vampire stories like Twilight. While I liked that the story had a diverse premise, I felt that it was too short and didn’t have much depth. I would definitely like to read a novella/novel based on this idea though.
12. Bullet, Butterfly by Elsie Chapman
A romantic love story set in a war-torn China, this felt like a gender-bent Mulan retelling. It made me emotional and there were bite-sized pieces of Chinese culture tucked into the corners of the story that made it so much better!
13. Daughter of the Sun by Shveta Thakrar
This was the kind of story that leaves a mark on the soul. Familiar but wholly original, it combined the best of Hindu mythology and astonishingly beautiful writing into one magical story. I loved how the story had feminist elements and the author’s note was just perfect!
14. The Crimson Cloak by Cindy Pon
I read this story on the exact seventh day of the seventh month of Chinese New Year in 2018. I quite enjoy the classic star-crossed lovers stories and this retelling retained the Chinese myth in all its glory while still presenting it in a new light. I’m overwhelmed with emotion after having read it and it’s such a heart-warming tale that I read at the perfect time.
15. Eyes Like Candlelight by Julie Kagawa
This book ended just as magnificently as it had begun, with Julie Kagawa’s lilting prose breathing life into Japan’s most famous folktale of kitsune. It explored the world of these shape-shifters with an emotionally powerful plot. It was enchanting and captivating from beginning to end.
I would recommend this collection to everyone but more so to the readers who will find their identities represented in the stories. For the music, go for any kind of light Asian instrumental music. My personal preference would be the flute. As for the food, tuck into your favourite kind of Asian food as there are plenty of mentions in pretty much every story. I would highly recommend a rice item of your choice.
Author(s): We Need Diverse Books Website
Have you read and enjoyed any retellings based on mythology or folktales recently? Which is the best short story collection you’ve read? What diverse books would you recommend I read next? Let me know in the comments section below.