Asian Tales and Tellers – Cathy Spagnoli

December 29, 2009 § 3 Comments


What is carved on rocks will wear away in time,
What is told from mouth to mouth will live forever.
-Vietnamese saying

This book is really just a collection of tales told from generation to generation. Spagnoli travelled extensively through most of Asia, going past paddy fields and hunting storytellers down, no thanks to signs in languages she does not understand, and bus drivers who turn around to ask their passengers the directions to their supposed destination. It is not easy task, she tells us, to find tellers these days.

After introducing us to herself and how she went about collecting these tales, she then goes on to introduce, in little segments and paragraphs, the tellers she met along the way. Why did they choose to tell stories, in today’s day and age? How important is story-telling to them and their community? Some stories are told in the local dialect to instill pride in those who listen; some are told to remind us of the importance of faith and the spiritual.

I found this first section of the book the most interesting. Coming from Asia myself, many of these stories are not new to me. But that tellers still exist today is something I’ve not considered. That these tellers still travel from temple to temple, that they still make use of traditional tools and exaggerated facial expressions, this is something I’ve thought to have long gone. I am definitely encouraged by the fact that not all that is old and handed down from past generations have been lost.

The book was written and edited for American readers. Stories have been put into different chapters, each chapter relating to a particular theme readily found in each of those stories. For example, there is a chapter under ‘Filial Piety and Respect for Elders’. The introduction to this chapter points out that for most Asian cultures, respect for elders and ancestors is almost sacred. Our notion of ‘respect’, or just the act of being polite, is defined very differently from in the West.


The tales are quite short, some only half a page long. But then again, the messages carried within each story is hard to miss. Some are outrageously funny and completely unbelievable, what with shape-shifters and animals who talk; but these myth-like characters are what make up the essence of stories that have been handed down from our ancestors.

Rating: 4

For: Random Reading Challenge


§ 3 Responses to Asian Tales and Tellers – Cathy Spagnoli

  • Sakura says:

    This book sounds wonderful. Sometimes I forget that story-telling is an oral tradition and not just to be found in books.

    I love your little elephant – it’s my favourite animal!

  • su says:

    @ Sakura: I know what you mean. Reading this book reminded me of the many stories I heard from my grandmother when I was still little. I really hope we don’t lose storytelling. It’s a great way to spend time together.

    • Sakura, This is a very belated response to your comment about Asian Tales and Tellers. I hope you’re still around to read this. I just wished to thank you so much for your reactions. Writing that book was a labor of love and I’m glad it has reached so many people. In fact, there is an e-book version from 2012, and a reprint in paperback, 2005. I myself am just getting back into writing since I had a bad time with brain cancer. So I thank you for your kind review, and all the best, Cathy Spagnoli

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