Getting close to Valentine’s Day!
Here’s the second in my series of Fairytale Fantasy reviews!
TO REPEAT from fairytale fantasy post #1: the term “fairy tale” is misleading. What we typically call “fairy tales” are more accurately described as “folk tales,” or “traditional tales,” especially one coming from the oral tradition. I’m also not necessarily posting about the fae, although one of the books does have a strong fae presence. “Fairy”—“Fae”—They are synonyms (of a sort), and tales of the fae are an important fantasy subgenre, but again, I’m not using “fairy” necessarily in that sense.
AND: I’m not dealing with anything Disney.
Spinning Silver, by Naomi Novik—one of my two favorites. See the review here.
Redemption in Indigo, by Karen Lord—one of my other two favorites, REVIEWED IN THIS POST!
Other interesting fairytale fantasy novels, to be reviewed in my next six posts:
Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister—based on the French fairy tale Cinderella.
Black Sun, by Rebecca Roanhorse—fantasy drawing on the folklore of Mesoamerica.
She Who Became the Sun, by Shelley Parker-Chan—fantasy using the ghost lore of China.
Shadow of the Fox, by Julie Kagawa—fantasy drawing on the folklore of Japan.
Alice, by Christina Henry—fantasy-horror retelling of Alice in Wonderland.
For the Wolf, by Hannah Whitten—fantasy based on Little Red Riding Hood (and Beauty and the Beast?).
In this series of posts, I will 1. discuss the fairy tale or folklore on which the novel is based; 2. review the novel; and 3. discuss other fantasy fiction related to the same fairy tale or folklore.
Here’s today’s post, reviewing one of my other top picks:
Redemption in Indigo, by Karen Lord
Karen Lord’s Redemption in Indigo, published in 2010 by Small Beer Press, is a marvelous novel with a unique feel. It is based on a Senegalese folktale, Ansige the Glutton, which came to the Americas by way of Barbados. The novel won a number of prestigious prizes: the Frank Collymore Literary Endowment Award in the author’s native Barbados, as well as the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award, the Carl Brandon Parallax Award, and the IAFA William L. Crawford Fantasy Award.
The folklore basis of the novel:
Ansige the Glutton is a folk tale well-known in West Africa. In the tale, Ansige Karamba, a notorious glutton, is married to Paama, a great cook. You’d think a match-up like this would result in the ideal marriage. Instead, Ansige drives Paama away with his demands and his ridiculous behavior. That wonderful resource, the TV Tropes web site, has a great discussion of the tale and its implications. Find it HERE.
In addition, Lord’s novel is chock-full of other wonderful West African folkloric elements, especially the djombe (god-like beings similar to ones found in West African and Afro-Caribbean spiritual beliefs) and especially the trickster spider Anansi. Like the Ansige the Glutton folktale, the stories of Anansi found their way to the Caribbean and the U.S. through West African slave culture.
If you’re the type of fantasy reader who demands a trope-y, fast-paced read, maybe look elsewhere. But if you love connecting with a unique voice, here’s your novel. It has a distinct literary flavor; it’s not cookie-cutter genre fiction. The writing is superb.
The story of wise, put-upon Paama, who first has to get rid of her annoying husband Ansige and then has to outwit a wily and determined assortment of gods intent on getting her to do their bidding, is fascinating in itself. But the voice! The narrator of this novel approaches the tale with a storyteller’s aplomb. We readers are always right at the storyteller-narrator’s elbow as she guides us through Paama’s journey, physical and spiritual.
The only disappointment in the novel is the ending. I wondered if I were too unsubtle a reader to “get it.” Paama’s story just ends. We’re told some things that result from her ordeal, but not shown them in that amazing storyteller’s way that has enchanted us through the body of the novel. The twist at the end is pretty enigmatic. I do see what happened, but I’d like to know more about how and why and what the consequences were. It’s a real tribute to this novel that in spite of my let-down and confusion at the end, I did love this book.
For the most part, readers seem to agree that Lord’s novel is a latter-day classic. Here‘s what The Washington Post had to say when the book became a finalist for the World Fantasy Best Novel Award. Here’s another review I found helpful.
Related works and fantasy-related fictions:
Let’s say you want MORE about Ansige the Glutton and Paama, his clever wife. The only place it’s easily available in English, as far as I know, is Harold Courlander’s children’s anthology, The Cow-Tail Switch: And Other West African Stories, which was named a Newbery Honor Book in 1948 but has been republished in 2008 in a lovely new edition through Square Fish, an imprint of Macmillan.
Another Harold Courlander book, A Treasury of Afro-American Folklore, might be a good place to explore these tales further, especially the tales about Anansi, the trickster spider—although actually, that much-maligned source, Wikipedia, offers a rich compendium of Anansi tales and is an excellent starting point if you want more Anansi—more! more! While Ansige the Glutton may not be very well-known in Western culture, the Anansi stories are, in many variations. The Brer Rabbit stories, for instance, are more or less the Anansi stories repackaged. Forget Joel Chandler Harris and The Song of the South. See Emily Marshall’s American Trickster: Trauma, Tradition and Brer Rabbit, especially chapter two, “Anansi and Brer Rabbit.”
Probably the most famous recent use of the Anansi myth in popular culture is the character of Mr. Nancy in Neil Gaimon’s very popular American Gods. It’s a novel! It’s a graphic novel! It’s a Starz series! It’s an entire industry all to itself, and Mr. Nancy is only one part of the whole sprawling thing. The sequel, Anansi Boys, continues the Mr. Nancy saga.