A Thousand Beginnings and Endings
A THOUSAND BEGINNINGS AND ENDINGS is a collection of fifteen short stories, edited by Ellen Oh and Elsie Chapman. All of the tales are retellings of popular Asian myths and legends, written by well-known Asian authors. The writers take old texts, such as THE MAHABHARATA and THE CHASA BONPULI, spin them with the magical ‘What If,’ and breathe fresh and often contemporary life into these works. Though all the stories have some fantastical element to them, there are a vast number of settings, characters, and circumstances, as well as a fairly representative sample of Asian literature. The novel compiles stories originating from the Philippines, China, India, Vietnam, Korea, and Japan.
I’ve never heard any of these stories before and I really loved being exposed to them. However, I often found myself wishing that I was more familiar with the classical tale so that I could appreciate how it had been altered. The editors seemed to anticipate this reaction, because after each short story, they included a one-to-two page explanation of the tale’s origins. This information really helped to grasp the essence and spirit of the stories.
Since each story is so different and each world is so rich, it was sometimes difficult to finish one and start the next in immediate succession. As a result, it took me much longer to get through this book than I anticipated. I also found myself wanting the stories to be longer and more expansive, so that I could get lost in them. In fact, I wish some would have been their own novels. While I enjoyed each and every short story as they all have something unique to offer, there were a few that really stood out, such as “Steel Skin” by Lori M. Lee, based on a Hmong folktale, ‘The Woman and the Tiger,’ “Bullet, Butterfly” by Elsie Chapman, based on a Chinese folktale, ‘The Butterfly Lovers,’ and “The Crimson Cloak,” by Cindy Pon, based on a Chinese legend, ‘The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl.’
Overall, A THOUSAND BEGINNINGS AND ENDINGS is a wonderful idea and huge accomplishment in diversifying representation in literature. It’s appealing to anyone who loves myths, fairytales, or fantasy. This compilation took me on many enchanting journeys, creating a wanderlust for these settings, and a deep desire to explore more books of this kind.