Jane Kurtz. The Storyteller's Beads. San Diego, New York, London: Harcourt Brace, 1998. 154 pp. $15.00 (paper), ISBN 978-0-15-201074-4.
Reviewed by Harold Marcus (Michigan State University)
Published on H-AfrTeach (February, 1999)
I am glad that this book is written for ten- to fourteen-year-olds, since neither my nine-year-old daughter nor I (sixty-two) had an easy time with it, and we both have been to Ethiopia. I have even traveled in most of the borderlands country and the regions in Begemdir in which the action takes place. I shall outline the tale we are supposed to believe: two young girls, one blind Beta Israel and one Christian Amhara leave their homes to avoid the civil strife of the Ethiopian revolution. The Jewish girl is driven by the hope of return to Israel; and her counterpart by survival. As they flee for sanctuary in Sudan, each loses her male protector.
In order to survive, the girls have to overcome their legion of prejudices about the other; and have to bond together. In the process, they learn that they are both human and that neither one nor the other is a devil or an enemy. Putting aside their intolerances, they grow to admire and love each other. In the final scene of the book, Rahel successfully insists that Sahay accompany her on the plane to the promised land. Tears all around.
I had high hopes for this book, since it takes Ethiopia and the life of its peoples seriously; and seeks to explain a complex history through the life of two girls caught up in events beyond the control of their elders. Jane Kurtz has even paid attention to the niceties of Amharic and has provided a glossary of terms and names. From time to time, she gets it right and one can smell Ethiopia, taste the bitterness of the country's recent history, and experience the dilemma and ignorance of its peoples. Most of the time, however, this book will perplex and confuse its youthful readership, which will have a hard time contextualizing its contents.
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Harold Marcus. Review of Kurtz, Jane, The Storyteller's Beads.
H-AfrTeach, H-Net Reviews.
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