By Oscar Mandel
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THE MASTERFUL CONTEMPORARY FABLES & TALES OF OSCAR MANDEL
A collection of Oscar Mandel’s fiction, including the Gobble-Up Stories, Chi Po and the Sorcerer, and The History of Sigismund, Prince of Poland. The products of a life spent learning and thinking, these stories offer surprising insight into the human condition through fables and fanciful tales rooted in philosophy. Drawing on the French narrative form of the conte and following in the fabulist traditions of Jean de La Fontaine, Edmond Rostand, and Pedro Calderón, Mandel challenges the reader with glowing prose, a sly wit, and ethical ambiguity couched in delicious and amusing tales of animals, princes, and kings.
A TASTE OF THE GOBBLE-UP STORIES:
The Caterpillar and the Leaf
“Why are you nibbling me up?” said the leaf to the caterpillar. “It hurts; I am bleeding; I will die.”
“Believe me,” answered the caterpillar, “I have nothing against you personally.”
“Then why don’t you go elsewhere?” wept the leaf.
“I have nothing for you personally either,” answered the caterpillar, munching on.
The Conceited Minnow
A fisherman had already caught three handsome trout—they were lying in a basket next to him—when he hooked a minnow. He was about to throw it back into the stream when the minnow, catching sight of his grimace, cried out, “And what’s the matter with me, if I may ask? Let me inform you that I’m as good as any trout that swims in these waters. I’m small, but I am good-looking, smart, and appetizing. In short, I resent your gesture of contempt and demand to be treated with the respect I deserve.”
“Oh well, if you insist,” said the fisherman, and he tossed the minnow into his basket.
I don’t know about people, but with minnows, once the ego breaks loose, there’s no telling where it will stop.
CHI PO AND THE SORCERER
Chi Po lived in a province full of mountains, grass, weather, and people. It lay deep in China, far from the sea, a little south of where it might have been, and all in all a trifle west of where it was. Chi Po was eleven years old, and he went to school because there was no remedy for it. But the schoolmaster always kept a branch or a flower on his desk—plum blossoms in the winter, a peony in the spring, a lotus in the summer, and a chrysanthemum in the fall—and this consoled Chi Po for having to memorize the classics. He would stare and stare at the peony, and count its petals, and wonder about having such a fine glob of color right under the blackboard….
Thus begins this charming, captivating novella, cloaked as a children’s tale but really a Zen-like meditation on the art of living—and not living. It skewers pomposity, mocks government, champions the passion of the artist, and most of all, spins a story with a great and sly wit.
THE HISTORY OF SIGISMUND, PRINCE OF POLAND
In a failed attempt to avoid the dire portents of a well-meaning astrologer, a prince is chained to a cave and deprived of his birthright. Will Sigismund’s fate be to inherit the monarchy or live an ignominious life of deprivation? Calderón’s Life is a Dream is renewed and reinterpreted in this bloodily funny and strongly meaningful saga, published in this collection of Oscar Mandel’s fiction for the very first time.
HIGH PRAISE INDEED*
“Delightful little tales, best described as modern Aesop fables.” — Hollywood Reporter
“Oscar Mandel’s present-day, tongue-in-cheek fables are worthy descendants of Aesop and La Fontaine.” —The Hartford Courant
“Their intimate spectacle, refreshing, witty and thoroughly engaging, is among the season’s happy surprises.” —The International Herald Tribune
“Joyfulness and simple wisdom.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“A wondrous story.” —McCall’s
“Indirect, subliminal magic.” —New York Times
“Strong, sophisticated stories.” —Chicago Tribune
“Dazzlingly witty” —Cynthia Ozick
* reviews refer to the original publications of the Gobble-Up Stories and Chi Po and the Sorcerer
“Magical… [the Gobble-Up Stories] are a treasure… Chi-Po stole my heart… Mandel has mastered the art of spinning a world with words, a skill honed by decades of learning and thinking about writing and art… Otherwise Fables is not a book that will receive attention because it is new or edgy; it is, rather, refreshing because it is the type of delightful, smart work that is ageless.”
— Jewish Book World
“Shrouded in the form of fantastical fairy tales, Mandel’s complete collection of fictions utilizes a simple, concise writing style combined with a characteristically irreverent wit to impart the wisdom of age-old morals while entertaining the reader with story lines full of implausibly magical situations. Mandel proves that fables, and the lessons within them, stretch beyond the realm of childhood.”
—Nota Benes, January 2015, World Literature Today
“Doses of James Thurber’s wit, a little of Marcel Ayme’s paradoxical thought, some of Aesop’s powerful simplicity, and even a dash of Umberto Eco’s literary aphorisms. . . . [Mandel] infuses his writing with the idea of two faces, much like Janus, the Roman god of passages and bridges who is often depicted as looking both at the future and the past. And so like Janus, Mandel reveals himself to be a great bridge constructor in the philosophical dimension of writing.”
“Oscar Mandel, heir to Aesop and La Fontaine, uses animals in order to point up our idiosyncrasies, expose our cowardice and highlight with certain indulgence, our venial sins. No one is safe from the mischievous gaze of this Belgian, professor of literature in the US, who writes equally well in English and French. Browsing through these 45 snapshots of the human condition will provoke knowing smiles and laughter.”
—Air France Magazine
“Mandel’s fiction does a nice job of blending a classic storytelling voice with a slyly modern sensibility, producing stories that work as fables while still having a little fun with the genre’s conventions. . . . Taken together, the three works in Otherwise Fables show a writer with an ear for storytelling and a willingness to keep an older style fresh.”
Oscar Mandel is an acclaimed Belgian-born American author and scholar who has published on numerous topics in English as well as in French. He has written on the subjects of literary theory and art history, translated plays, and authored his own poetry, drama, and fiction. He is a Professor Emeritus of Literature at California Institute of Technology, having taught as a professor there for more than 40 years. Learn more at oscarmandel.com