Book Review: A girl swallowed by a tree

It was last year that I realized how much more I needed to read diversely within Indian literature. I wrote a blog post about the same, and it was while researching for this post that I came across Adivaani, a publisher that aims to create a database of writing that celebrates Adivasi culture. I started following them on Twitter, and that is how I found out that in April this year, they published A girl swallowed by a tree: Lotha Naga Tales Retold by Nzanmongi Jasmine Patton. I am always fascinated by mythology and cultures, and I immediately knew I had to have this book.

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One cannot really “review” this book, the way one would review others. It is as futile as trying to review The Illiad, The Odyssey, The Ramayana, The Mahabharata, or The Jataka Tales. A culture and its products–the stories, music, food etc, are subject to scrutiny, but should never be subject to judgement. A culture cannot be criticized–it simply is a growing, changing, evolving system!

These stories are just that–a reflection of the thoughts and beliefs of the Lotha Naga tribe (or the Kyongs, as they call themselves). The thirty stories in this anthology are part of their cultural sub-conscious, reflecting the ideas that matter to them. In fact, I would go so far as to say, our collective, human sub-conscious, because so many of these stories have echoes in other stories elsewhere.

For example, my grandmother who was born and brought up in Kerala, in a socio-cultural milieu very distinct from the Lotha Nagas, used to tell me a folk story about a woman who was tricked into marrying a tiger, and how she escaped. In this anthology too, there is the story of The Tiger Bridegroom and the Human Bride. It is not the exact same story, but there are similarities, that make me wonder what prompted such different cultures to come up with similar stories.

Stories like The Legend of how Men became Monkeys, How Chilli was discovered, The Duel between Wind and Fire, and The Legend of Man and Wolf give us an idea of how we with our human senses and imaginations invent stories as a way to understand the world around us. Other stories, like Humchupvuli Eloe, The Pumpkin Bride and The Gourd Bride, talk about relationships and friendships. Others, like, The Emi and the Forty young Men from the Chumpo, or The Legend of the Sungalia Plant are parables that guide and inform us about good and bad. Stories like these abound in all cultures. There are some invisible threads in time and space that bind us all together.

This is in no way an attempt to appropriate the culture of the Kyongs. Where I celebrate our similarities, I also acknowledge and celebrate their uniqueness. In fact, it is the insight into their socio-cultural landscape that I appreciate the most. At the start of the book, the author gives an explanation of how the Lotha Naga society is structured, their customs and beliefs. I am glad for this section, because it truly helped me gain an understanding of their way of life. I also appreciate that the author has not shied away from using Lotha words–the glossary provided at the end of each story is explanation enough! By using the vocabulary of the people, she has ensured that translation has not watered down the ideas, and I applaud her for that.

The Introduction at the beginning also details the author’s journey while writing this book–the why and the how, and that story is a pleasure to read in itself!

In her Foreword to the book, author Easterine Kire says, “This is a book that should be used as a pathfinder for other books on oral narratives.Literature from the Northeast has been suppressed too long by mainstream publishing that requires writers from the region to write within a prescribed box and format.”

I wholeheartedly agree! In its bold assertion to be itself, the book accomplishes great things. I do hope you will take a peek into this wonderful world of folklore that the author has painstakingly put together.

Do you enjoy reading folklore/mythology? Have you read any literature from Northeast India? What about Adivasi literature from other parts of India? Let me know in the comments!

You can read an extract from A girl swallowed by a tree here: 

http://indianculturalforum.in/2017/05/10/nzanmongi-jasmine-patton-book-extract/

 

Author Bio (from the book A girl swallowed by a tree): Nzanmongi Jasmine Patton is an Assistant Professor in the Department of English, Gargi College, University of Delhi. She has diverse interests ranging from Oral History and History, Translation, Gender Studies, Culture Studies, Women’s Autobiographies, Indian Writings in English, Classical Literature and Western Music. She has written chapters for the texts of the Literature-Culture specialization of the MA(F) Program in Women’s and Gender Studies, IGNOU, 2013. She has also co-authored a book titled A Handbook for Academic Writing and Composition by Pinnacle Learning, 2014. She has presented and published papers on folklore and oral history in national and international conferences and journals.

About the Publisher: https://adivaani.org/about/

Purchase links:

https://www.ilandlo.com/Books-and-Gadgets/A-girl-swallowed-by-a-tree:-Lotha-Naga-Tales-Retold

http://www.amazon.in/girl-swallowed-tree-Lotha-Retold/dp/9384465089

Disclaimer: I am in no way associated with the websites/companies that the purchase links lead to, and I am not responsible for their services. I do not earn anything from said companies for clicks on these links, I have simply provided them for the ease of readers who would like to purchase the book.

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18 thoughts on “Book Review: A girl swallowed by a tree

  1. This sounds wonderful. Your grandmom was born in Kerala? That’s where I am from. I have not heard of the Tiger and Bride story. But I read a similar story in a book of folk tales. I am not sure if that was in Mizo myths published by Blaft (that I have reviewed) or Khasi folktales by Penguin India. Both are good books if you want to take a look. I really enjoyed the Khasi tales and remember giving it 5/5 stars though I haven’t reviewed it on the blog. You might be able to find similarities in A girl swallowed by a tree and the stories from Meghalaya. I am just assuming a connection, of course, since they are geographically close.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Quite possible that the stories might be similar!
      Yeah, my grandparents on both sides were born in Kerala. We’re basically Palakkad Iyers. So my native place is in Kerala as well, though we don’t currently have anyone staying there. My grandparents migrated to Mumbai and following generations grew up here.
      And it’s a good thing you haven’t heard the Tiger and Bride story. It’s gory!

      Liked by 1 person

      • The language we speak at home is a mixture of Tamil and Malayalam. 😊So yeah, I understand Malayalam well though I cannot converse fluently in pure Malayalam.
        In case you don’t find it, I’ll DM it to you πŸ˜‚

        Liked by 1 person

      • Apologies if that question was intrusive. After re reading it now, I think maybe I should not have asked that. And how nice you can understand both the languages. Works well if you want to watch movies.

        I googled that story The Tiger and the Brahmin Bride. Ah! not a happy ending, just like all the folk tales. πŸ˜€

        Liked by 1 person

      • Not at all intrusive 😊
        I googled the story and while it is the story my grandma told me. Except in my grandmom’s version, the Tiger has cubs of his own and before escaping the bride kills them. I used to always feel very bad for the tiger babies!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m very much interested in mythology and folklore. This book seems to be very very interesting to me. The title itself is so fascinating. Adding it to my TBR. Will make sure to get this one before others in TBR.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is what I have been searching for ❀❀❀❀❀❀❀❀ Gonna order it today. And use it in my curriculum. And spread the word. Thanks so much for writing about it!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wonderful! Thank you so much 😊 I’d love to know more about how you plan to use these in your curriculum. Not sure if the book is available for international delivery though.

      Like

    • Cool, what will you be teaching, Jupiter? I have a hard time with folktalkes because they’re so rooted in the culture from which they come that it can be hard to understand the importance of the story if you don’t know the culture. Most of the fairy tales we hear in the United States come from Europe and what was going on there. I do love the new fairy tale movement in the U.S., which consists mostly of Kate Bernheimer and Kelly Link. I also like Ludmilla Petrushevskaya. Her books have gruesome titles like There Once Lived a Girl Who Seduced Her Sister’s Husband, and He Hanged Himself: Love Stories.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. This was such a wonderful post to read. I absolutely love books like this, ones that explore culture and beliefs so intimately. I always feel so comforted when I read your thoughts on books, whether you enjoyed the narrative or not. β™₯ Thanks for sharing!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much! That’s one of the sweetest things I’ve ever been told 😊 I hope you get the opportunity to read this book soon.

      Liked by 1 person

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