Mesmerizing New Reads Based on Folktales From Around the World

This week’s Three to Read spotlights fables and folktales from non-European countries to celebrate World Folktales and Fables Week.

Fantasy Recommendations Three To Read
Spring season banner with the book covers for "Kaikeyi" by Vaishnavi Patel, "Every Drop Is a Man's Nightmare" by Megan Kamalei Kakimoto, and "Fathomfolk" by Eliza Chan.

March is host to many celebrations happening nationally and around the world, including World Folktales and Fables Week. For this week’s Three to Read, we’re highlighting stories with lesser-known folktales and fables from around the world.

Folktales and fables are some of the oldest forms of literature in human history and they often get mixed up because of their similarities. Fables are fictional stories that feature anthropomorphized animals or objects to illustrate a moral lesson, often meant for children to teach them morality in a way they understand. While folktales can have lessons too, folktales are stories that originate from popular culture and focus on people.

We can learn a lot about cultures from the folktales and fables that make up their pop culture and literary history. To honor the rich tapestry of stories around the world, we’re shining a light on three books that are inspired by or incorporate non-Western folktales.

HOT PICK

Kaikeyi by Vaishnavi Patel

Book cover for "Kaikeyi" by Vaishnavi Patel.
IMAGE VIA BOOKSHOP

SYNOPSIS

The ancient Hindu text the Ramayana gets a modern retelling in this fantasy debut. When we meet Kaikeyi, she is not the villainous queen she is in the Hindu epic, but the only daughter of the kingdom of Keyaka. Raised on stories of gods and their power, she calls on the deities of her childhood when her father banishes her mother and forces Kaikeyi into a marriage of alliance. When the gods don’t answer, Kaikeyi fights for herself, transforming from a princess to a warrior and a diplomat. But the destiny she’s chosen for herself clashes with the destiny the gods intend for her family. Now Kaikeyi must choose if following her own path is worth the destruction it will wreak on the world.

WHY

The Ramayana is an epic poem from ancient India and one of two important texts of Hinduism. The epic’s influence is still currently felt in Hindu culture, religion, and daily life, with many using the story to justify their own beliefs and values. However, Vaishnavi Patel sees the lessons people take away from the Ramayana not as inevitable but as choices. Many people choose to center Rama and his journey, but Patel chose differently. Patel’s retelling of the epic poem centers on the female figures that are so often left out of popular interpretations and pays respect to the complexity of the original Ramayana.

COFFEE SHOP

Every Drop Is a Man’s Nightmare by Megan Kamalei Kakimoto

Book cover for "Every Drop Is A Man's Nightmare" by Megan Kamalei Kakimoto
IMAGE VIA BOOKSHOP

SYNOPSIS

This collection of stories uses Hawaiian mythology to explore modern-day Hawaiian identity through fiction. With a cast of mixed native Hawaiian and Japanese women, Kakimoto looks past the idyllic images Hawaii is known for and focuses on the wisdom passed through families and the echoes of colonization. The stories are a blend of narrative and superstition: a childhood encounter on a haunted highway that foreshadows a woman’s difficult feelings about her body during her pregnancy; an elderly widow who sees her deceased lover in a flower; a writer, mid-manuscript, that feels her pages moving in her briefcase. Rich with history and lore, the collection is a love letter to Kakimoto’s native land.

WHY

Kakimoto’s collection drips with Hawaiian history, culture, and lore in every story, equal parts a love letter to the state and an assertion of Hawaiian people’s place in contemporary literature. When writing the stories, Kakimoto initially saw her audience as native Hawaiians, people who would connect with her work through their own ancestral roots. But upon revision, she began rethinking what impact she wanted her work to make and which people she wanted to call in with her writing. Every Drop Is A Man’s Nightmare is Kakimoto’s ode to her Hawaiian and Japanese identities and also an invitation for non-natives and natives to see Hawaiians represented in literature.

DARK HORSE

Fathomfolk by Eliza Chan

Book cover for "Fathomfolk" by Eliza Chan.
IMAGE VIA BOOKSHOP

SYNOPSIS

In this debut fantasy inspired by East Asian mythology, Tiankawi is a semi-submerged city where the humans live in towers that look down on the fathomfolk in the polluted waters below. Relations between the humans and fathomfolk — sirens, seawitches, kelpies, and kappas — are tense at best and volatile at worst. Half-siren Mira is eager to use her promotion to captain of the border guard to help other fathomfolk, but the exile of Nami, a water dragon and fathomfolk princess, puts Mira’s plans in jeopardy. When extremists attack a city festival, causing a clampdown on fathomfolk rights, Mira and Nami have to decide if their sunken city is worth saving.

WHY

Fantasy books are one of the best places to see mythology come to life, which makes it a perfect vehicle to share folktales and fables from different cultures. Fathomfolk combines many common elements of fantasy — mythical creatures, political drama, rich worldbuilding — with a mix of Chinese and Japanese mythology. Despite Asian countries having a lot of history involving oppression, classism, racism, and other driving systems that we see in fantasy, there aren’t a lot of books that draw on mythology from the Asian diaspora. Fathomfolk draws on the similarities between fiction and reality to create an immersive story with the underrated magic of East Asian mythology.


Thanks for tuning in to this week’s article; check out last week’s Three To Read on historical women written by female authors here.

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