Kalila and Dimna or The Panchatantra (also known in Europe since 1483 as The Fables of Bidpai) is a multi-layered, inter-connected and variable arrangement of animal stories, with one story leading into another, sometimes three or four deep. These arrangements have contributed to world literature for over 2000 years, migrating across ancient cultures in a multitude of written and oral formats. All our beast fables from Aesop and the Buddhist Jataka Tales through La Fontaine to Uncle Remus owe this strange, shape-shifting 'book' a huge debt.
In its original Arabic format, Kalila and Dimna (The Panchatantra being its Sanskrit precursor), ostensibly constitutes a handbook for rulers, a so-called 'Mirror for Princes' illustrating indirectly, through a cascade of teaching stories and verse, how to (and how not to!) run the kingdom of your life. In their slyly profound grasp of human nature at its best (and worst!) these animal fables, usually avoiding any moralistic human criticism, serve up digestible sage counsel for us all.
Based on his collation of scholarly translations from key Sanskrit, Syriac, Arabic and Persian texts, as well as the 1570 English rendition by Sir Thomas North, this is the first uncompromisingly modern re-telling in either the East or West for over 400 years. In Ramsay Wood's version the profound meanings behind these ancient fables shine forth as he captures a great world classic, making it fresh, relevant, fascinating and hugely readable.
His second volume of fables from Kalila and Dimna, picks up where the first, Fables of Friendship and Betrayal, left off - covering deceit, political skullduggery, murder, enemies, deadly monsters, kings, bees, princesses, monkeys, lions, crocodiles and how we all live and die together in peace or conflict. This is a book full of outrageously behaved animals and humans doing the most delightfully awful (yet sometimes gentle) things to each other. These are joyous, sad, amusing and sometimes brutal stories; their function being to educate both king and commoner alike in the ways of the world, the harsh realities that can often lurk beneath the surface of our cozy, everyday subjectivity.
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Ramsay Wood, whose first story was published in LIFE magazine in 1967, once traveled as a photojournalist to East Africa, Vietnam and Pakistan. Now works part-time in London teaching dyslexic children keyboard skills and literacy. He was born into a diplomat's family and has lived in Scotland, the Philippines, France and the US. He attended Harvard, and in 1981 was Secretary of the College of Storytellers and Chairman of the British charity Afghan Relief.Review:
‘These stories speak to and belong to the whole of humanity... What Ramsay has done over the last thirty years is to have made the version for our time.' From the Introduction by Michael Wood, author of The Story of India.
‘Kalila wa Dimna is, like the Arabian Nights, an engine room of stories - and stories within stories. It is also one of the undoubted masterpieces of world literature. Its tales mingle entertainment and wisdom. The limpidity of Ramsay Wood's prose echoes that of the Indian original.’ Robert Irwin, author of The Arabian Nights: a Companion.
‘This cycle of ancient Indian and Persian animal fables, largely unknown, unavailable, and inaccessible until now, has been retold by Ramsay Wood in a lively modern prose that is earthly and wry, with flashes of insight that verge on wisdom. It is a must-read for anyone interested in the masterpieces of world literature - or just in a totally engrossing and entertaining reading experience, one enhanced by lovely line-drawings in the margins and pithy quotes from other sources. This book is an amazing gift to all of us who love good stories and great storytelling!' Lisa Alther, author of Kinflicks.
‘An intricately woven web of some of the world's oldest and greatest stories, sweetly and humourously retold, and begging to be read aloud to a new generation of listeners.’ William Dalrymple, author of City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi.
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