Book Review: A Thousand Beginnings and Endings – Edited by Ellen Oh and Elsie Chapman


There are very few books that tug at your heartstrings and touch your soul and all you want to do is bask in their glory, laugh and cry and do so much more. This is one such book. An own voices anthology of retellings of Asian myths and folktales, this is something a younger me would have devoured; but the older me definitely appreciates it more for what it represents – Asian kids finding their childhood tales in mainstream YA. I am amazed at how well the authors retold the stories that we know so well, but still managed to make them feel fresh and fascinating. And every author mentioning the original story which inspired them was just icing on the cake.

These are stories of love, loss, joy, grief and heartbreak and so much more, and I promise you will find something that you can connect to. And I may be biased, but all the stories here that were based on Indian myths were my absolute favorites and I know that I’m going to be reading them many more times. I recommend this book to all Asian readers and anyone else who is interested in reading diverse stories.

Please find the stories, their origin myths and my individual reviews below:

Forbidden Fruit by Roshani Chokshi

Maria Makiling – A Filipino Folktale

It was an ill-fated thing to claim that a heart is safe. Hearts are rebellious. The moment they feel trapped, they will strain against their bindings.

I’ve always had some trouble following Chokshi’s writing style and I had initial hiccups too, but it turned out well. It’s a story of Dayang, the spirit of the mountain, who just wants to be loved and is so high on emotions when she does, she doesn’t really think of the consequences. It’s a tale of loneliness, love, greed and heartbreak which left me feeling unsatisfied due to the unfairness of it all.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

Olivia’s Table by Alyssa Wong

The Hungry Ghost Festival – A Chinese Tradition

A beautiful story about the importance of food, keeping traditions alive and working hard to provide some solace to poor, lonely souls; while also dealing with the utter grief of losing a parent, while being bullied at school for being non-white and navigating the heartbreak of losing your love.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

 Steel Skin by Lori M. Lee

The Woman and the Tiger – A Hmong Folktale

This is a sci-fi tale about a young girl who is grieving her mother’s death and also the death of her relationship with her father since then. She starts doubting that he might be an android, replaced during the android rebellion that also killed her mother; but when the truth is revealed, it rocks her world and she is devastated. This story is beautiful, full of love and loss and the importance of found family.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Still Star-Crossed by Sona Charaipotra

Mirza and Sahiba – A Punjabi Folktale

Anyway, these days, you kids don’t know anything about love.” She pushes another stack of velvet boxes toward me. “All this swipe right, swipe left. True love is in the eyes, in the reuniting of two souls.”

A story about an Indian American girl, growing up with some form of restrictions in her conservative family but also a mischievous mother, all the talk about eating Chole Bhature and drinking Limca and bhang on Holi, dancing to punjabi song remixes, a boy who seems to instantly recognize her but she is ony intrigued by – all of this was just wonderful and so familiar. A story of a love that outlives death, reincarnation and a connection that is so powerful – this was pure Hindi movie territory that I absolutely loved reading. Wish it were a full novel.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Counting of Vermillion Beads by Aliet Te De Bodard

Tấ’m Cám – A Vietnamese Folktale

This is the story of two sisters who have been separated from their family and now live in a Palace with other girls as per the decree of the Everlasting Emperor, surrounded by an impenetrable wall. Tam and Cam are always together and their love for each other and the grief they feel when separated is wonderfully written. But this story is magical realism, which is not my genre at all, so I couldn’t totally understand the themes in the story.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

The Land of the Morning Calm by E. C. Myers

The Chasa Bonpuli – A Korean Epic

Sunny is a Korean-American girl who is still dealing with the loss of her mom while her grandfather keeps insisting that she is still present as a gwisin (or ghost). When it’s announced that LMC, her mom’s most favorite online video game is being shutdown, she logs in one last time to feel connected to her again. The story incorporates Korean myths about ghosts and creatures and the underworld into a game so seamlessly, it’s absolutely thrilling to read.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Smile by Aisha Saeed

The Story of Anarkali – A South Asian Legend

As long as I live within these walls I am not free. My heart is all I have to freely give.

Any Hindi movie lover will tell you that Mughal-e-Azam is a masterpiece and I am no exception. So, actually reading a retelling of the love story of Salim and Anarkali which questions the power imbalance in a relationship between a courtesan and her prince felt glorious. The premise is basically about choice – when you literally belong to someone, do you really love them of your own free will? This story made me very nostalgic and happy and I coouldn’t love it any less.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Girls who Twirl and Other Dangers by Preeti Chhibber

Navratri – A Hindu Festival

Durgā looked at the gods before her, and felt the power of three inside her, building and amplifying her presence. She could see the thousands of beginnings and endings she had and would endure. She was ready for this story.

This is definitely my favorite story of the book. The joy of celebrating Navratri, the garba, the puja, the sense of community, everything is described so perfectly, I was overjoyed. The original tale of Maa Durga and Mahishasur is also interspersed within the story which I thought was an excellent touch. I also loved the theme of girls standing up for themselves and demanding an apology when wronged – it goes so well with the festival celebrating the power of the female divinity.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Nothing into All by Renée Ahdieh

The Goblin Treasure – A Korean Fairy Tale

A tale about a brother and sister; the brother who can’t forgive her for her childhood mistake and a sister who undermines herself in front of him because she still feels guilty. This is a story about family and forgiveness – how you must give your loved ones a chance to turn around when they have made bad choices.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Spear Carrier by Rahul Kanakia

The Mahabharata – A South Asian Epic

A young American high school boy who has always wondered what it would feel like to be a hero, the meaning of heroism and what happens to those who die trying – is suddenly transported into a battlefield and asked to fight. He struggles with his loneliness, searches for his purpose and questions the ones in charge but never gets the answers he wants. This is basically a story of the Kurukshetra war told from the POV of one of the soldiers, making us wonder whether they really understood what they were fighting for. Mahabharata is my most favorite story (or epic) in the world and the Gita is too complex to understand, especially in condensed versions; that’s why the various philosophical musings throughout the story felt too dense and anyone who doesn’t have any idea about this epic will find it hard to follow.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

Code of Honor by Melissa de la Cruz

Aswangs – A Filipino Folktale

It’s difficult to be honorable at your worst moment and to forgive those who do you wrong, to have to battle what comes naturally to you. But that’s what it takes to be a monster living among mortals.

The author takes a young aswang girl from the Philippines and connects her story to the Blue Bloods series set in Manhattan and I thought it was seamlessly done. Aida has been a nomad her whole life, traveling from country to country, always feeling restless, until a whispered conversation makes her heart go wild and she feels the need to come to NYC. This is the story of a girl who tries to live by a code because she is a monster living among humans, and just wants to find a family like her because she is tired of being alone.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Bullet, Butterfly by Elsie Chapman

The Butterfly Lovers – A Chinese Folktale

We’ll find each other again, when the war is over. Butterflies defy gravity, so maybe they can defy death, too.

In a Civil war torn China, boys are the fighters, girls make the arms and marriage alliances are akin to trading goods. In this cruel situation, Liang dresses up as a girl to sneak into the armory but his whole life changes when he meets Zhu. This is a beautiful, heartbreaking story of star-crossed lovers whom even death couldn’t keep apart.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Daughter of the Sun by Shveta Thakrar

The Mahabharata – A South Asian Epic

The mashup of the story of Savitri/Satyavan with that of Shantanu and Ganga – this is the beautiful tale of a young girl who has been raised secluded and yearns for companionship. When she finds the moon to her sun, she defies curses and gods and death, ultimately getting back the love of her life with single minded devotion. The setting of the estate, the lake and the swans, the writing – everything was just pure magic.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Crimson Cloak by Cindy Pon

The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl – A Chinese Legend

I cannot remember his face any longer. What I do recall are fragments in time: the crinkling of his eyes against the sunshine or when he smiled, the ghost of his unrestrained laughter if I said something goddesslike when I wasn’t trying to be amusing, the feel of that callus on his palm beneath the finger where he wore my gold ring. I am left with pieces of remembering though I loved him whole.

Another beautiful love story, this one of a goddess falling in love with a mortal man. She tries to leave him, so that he can marry and have his own children, but he follows her into the skies, declaring his eternal love and promises to keep her happy. It broke my heart to read about the goddess having to keep living even after the death of her beloved, trying to keep their memories alive.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Eyes like Candlelight by Julie Kagawa

Kitsune – A Japanese Myth

A little booy saves a fox knowing that it might be a Kitsune. Years later, when Takeo is trying to pray to the god Inari to provide rice for his village, he finds himself enchanted by a girl Yuki, who feels almost ethereal, until she reveals herself to be the same little fox. She agrees to help his village and he promises to come back to her, but fate has other plans. Another heartbreaking tale which was wonderfully written.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐


27 thoughts on “Book Review: A Thousand Beginnings and Endings – Edited by Ellen Oh and Elsie Chapman

Add yours

        1. Got the spelling from the book… 😊😊
          It’s an excellent anthology.. Indian, Filipino, Chinese and Korean myths mostly.. it felt so special to read all Asian stories…

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Yes, most definitely. I know a lot of stories about “Aswangs” and “Maria Makiling” growing up. So it’s amazing that these authors took time to put a compilation of all these Asian stories. I’m thinking of buying the book and adding it to my collection.

            Liked by 1 person

          2. That’s awesome right… finding our childhood stories retold is so fun…
            I bought this one too… I made the lady in the bookstore search for it all over 😉😉😉
            Definitely a book that we can keep for our collection 😊😊😊

            Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Sara… I’ve been waiting to read this one since it was announced… its always fun reading Asian authors and all of them together is special… And this book is very very special 😍😍😍

      Liked by 1 person

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