Wednesday 25 January 2023

#bookreview: Nusantara: A Sea of Tales | Heidi Shamsuddin

Nusantara: A Sea of TalesNusantara: A Sea of Tales by Heidi Shamsuddin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Nusantara: A Sea of Tales is a wonderful collection of fairy tales, folklore, and fables from the core geographic area of the Malay Archipelago or what used to be called Nusantara. A large majority of the stories come from Malaysia, both East and West (since Heidi Shamsuddin is Malaysian), and Indonesia (because both countries share quite a lot of the same folklore), which I guess automatically includes Singapore (because they were historically always linked before they became their own country).

There are a smattering of stories from other Southeast Asian countries - the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand - and, oddly, one story each from Guam and Madagascar. Heidi justifies the latter two as being included because they share the Austronesian language. Frankly, I felt they were just a little too far away to share much cultural similarity and probably could have been kept for a later collection.

Some of the more familiar tales (to me) are several Sang Kancil stories, variations of the Bawang Putih, Bawang Merah tale, Si Tanggang, The Swordfish Attack of Singapore and The Curse of Mahsuri. Some of the other tales are vaguely familiar - whether because I have heard of/read them before in other collections or they are similar to European tales, I cannot quite tell. But quite a few were new to me, especially those from Borneo and from other countries. I was delighted to discover Pak Pandir stories for the first time. How did I not know these exist?

Heidi includes notes at the end of each tale or, sometimes, at the end of a group of similar tales. This provided a lot of background knowledge about where the story comes from (and where similar stories are told across the region), explanations of untranslated words and names (where they hold specific meanings that add nuance to the story), as well as some hidden meanings behind cultural practices that are not quite apparent face value.

Some other books you may be interested in checking out include: Tales of Superhuman Powers: 55 Traditional Stories from Around the World, Pearls on a Branch: Arab Stories Told by Women in Lebanon Today, Tales of Japan: Traditional Stories of Monsters and Magic.

Nusantara: A Sea of Tales is a timely book that collects tales from oral storytellers and
older print sources that are increasingly hard to find before they are lost to us altogether.

View all my reviews


And that's book 1 from the 2023 Booktempter's TBR reduction challenge!

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