2 out of 4 stars
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Cinderella is a character who transcends cultures. The fairy tale has versions in the folklore of many different countries. This particular tale has very distinct differences from the European version, but that adds to the charm of this short little book.
Yeh-shen by Ray Simmons is part memoir and part fairy tale told by the author’s students. The book is comprised partially of pictures. Half of the book is pictures of the author’s Chinese students who he worked with teaching English at a school in China. In the second part of the book, the author is told the story of Yeh-shen by his students. The story focuses on the two wives of a great ruler. One of the wives is kind and beautiful, but the other wife is bitterly jealous of what she perceives as favoritism towards her rival by their husband. Both women have daughters, and the jealous wife hatches a terrible plan aimed at the kind wife and her daughter. Making a deal with bandits, the jealous wife has the kind wife and her daughter attacked. The husband of the two women tries to defend his favorite wife, but he and the kind woman die in the attack. Yeh-shen, the daughter of the two, survives. The jealous wife promises her dying husband that she will care for the girl. Of course, this being a Cinderella story, the audience is aware that this is a promise that won’t be kept.
I ended up giving Yeh-shen 2 out of 4 stars. The story itself, as told by the students, is charming. The traditional aspects of the European Cinderella story are evident in the tale, but the Chinese version has its own cultural differences. It’s nice hearing the story in the voice of Chinese students, making it feel like a traditional story being told orally. It’s also nice to hear a fairy story from a non-European source.
Unfortunately, I ended up having to mark the book down for several reasons. The first problem is the organization of the book is very confusing. The first half is all pictures that don’t seem to have much reason for being in the actual book. They are of the author’s Chinese students, but there really doesn’t seem to be much organization to them or explanation why they’re there. The pictures go on for so long that I thought I had somehow ended up with the wrong book. The second problem is that there are a lot of comma errors for such a short book. The general understanding of the story isn’t compromised, but the number of basic comma errors is very noticeable.
In the end, a charming fairy story is marred by some errors that a decent editor could fix. The book might be better served being a collection of fairy tales that the author’s students tell him, not one story with lots of random pictures. The story at the core of the book is wonderful, just is in need of some different presentation.
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