A Thousand Beginnings and Endings, by Various Authors

Edited by Ellen Oh and Elsie Chapman, the collection of stories in A Thousand Beginnings and Endings contains fifteen stories from a variety of genres—mostly science fiction, fantasy, and contemporary fantasy—all based on stories from East and South Asian folklore. Notes that follow each story to discuss the source material that inspired the own voices authors. Two of the sources are based on sections of the Mahabharata; the rest are based on stories from Vietnam, Korea, the Philippines, China, and Japan.

Some of the stand out stories include:

“Olivia’s Table,” by Alyssa Wong. This was my favorite story. It takes the Chinese tradition of the annual feast for ghosts and transplants it to a small former mining town in Arizona. Olivia is the daughter of a chef/exorcist who, for years, prepared a feast for the ghosts that wander Bisden. The food she prepared offers a chance for hungry ghosts to feel cared for and, thus, find peace. Olivia has taken over for her mother because she can see ghosts that no one else can see until the feast kicks off: the ghosts of Chinese workers, Hopi women, and a lot of people dead of gunshot wounds. This story relates the first time Olivia prepares the feast, as well as her own troubled memories and grief..

“Still Star-Crossed,” by Sona Charaipotra. This story is based on one of the legendary love stories from Indian mythology, the story of Shahiba and Mizra. The original story is one of betrayal and family obligations but Charaipotra gives it a new spin. At first, the story creeped me out a little because there are some stalker-ish vibes. The female protagonist meets a man who pursues her, insisting that he has a piece of jewelry that belongs to her even though she denies it. He backs off when she asks, but keeps popping up. The twist comes when the protagonist’s mother reveals her own missed opportunity and we finally see why this man has popped up. When I read Charaipotra’s note about her source material, I finally saw this story as the righting of a historical wrong.

“Bullet, Butterfly,” by Elsie Chapman. This story is based on the Chinese legend of the Butterfly Lovers, a man and a woman who were divided from each other by war and filial duty. This story retains a lot of the original: the endless war, the arranged marriage, and the cross-dressing. What’s different is that it’s Liang, the man, who dresses as a woman and finds Zhu, the woman, in an armaments factory while he’s in there as a bet. The two develop a friendship, that blossoms into more over time. The ending of this story is beautifully tragic. It’s no wonder that this story has been told and retold over the centuries.

“Crimson Cloak,” by Cindy Pon. Like many of the stories in this collection, this one is a chance to retell an old story to give voice to a character who didn’t get a chance in the original version. In this story, the seventh daughter of the Heavenly Queen and the Jade Emperor—the daughter who puts the red into sunsets and sunrises—sets the record straight about how she met her Cowherd and what really happened in the legend. The change transforms the story into a wonderful story of female agency.

Some of the stories in this collection were…not great. There were more hits than misses for me, not just because so much of the source material was new to me. I really liked how so many of the authors took the stories and turned them around so that women could speak this time, or to ask questions that were never fully resolved, or just to give a modern perspective to centuries (or sometimes millennia) old stories.

A statue of the Butterfly Lovers, in Verona, Italy of all places (Image via Wikicommons)

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