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They’re Just Stories. Or Are They?

An honest review of John Tannhauser’s “Just a world away”

One of the first books I remember reading as a kid was a collection of Italian traditional short stories. I was fascinated by those brief tales about a place close to me in space but not very much in time.

Many of them were quite similar to each other, following very similar patterns and tropes, but I was still too young to care. To me, what mattered was for the good to triumph over evil.

As I grew up, my fascination for those stories faded: not that I didn’t see their value, but somehow the magic was broken. 

Maybe it was seeing them as a written transposition of popular tales, or maybe it was the fact that I began to read very different things and that made those tales look like each other, maybe it’s just physiological as you grow up.

Just a World Away

I never thought back about those short stories, until a couple of weeks ago, when a collection of short stories from all around the world caught my attention. Lately I tend to enjoy reading short stories because they usually transport me to many different places in the span of a single book, and it was particularly true for “Just a World Away”.

In fact, the short stories in it are collected from many different places, and you really appreciate the differences between them as you read it. All the stories in the book involve some supernatural force, just like their Italian counterpart I used to read, and you really think about how similar we are to each other all around the world, while still maintaining our unique identity and traditions.

As an example, the first one is set in South-West Asia, while the second is set in Northern Europe. Not only the characters and setting are very different from each other in these two stories, but also the theme and the pace, even though both of them involve a supernatural entity helping the good-hearted.

If I have to pick a favorite among all these stories, I’d go with “Bear with it”, because I like the mystery surrounding the castle and how it plays into a few popular legends. It felt like a European transposition of a book I read and reviewed a while ago (spoilers, so follow link at your discretion), and this similarity made the story stand out a little more with respect to the others.

A close runner-up was “The Genie”: the love and betrayal story really moved me, even though I didn’t fully grasp why it was told as a tale from the djinn rather than having the reader follow it as it happened. It was so fascinating and I cared so much about its resolution that the added layer didn’t spoil the experience in the least.

Stories as a healing device

In a particular moment in time when traveling gets harder and harder for me, and in a moment in history when the chances of cultural exchange get dimmer and dimmer, “Just a World Away” helped me feel the world, including places far far away from me, a bit closer.

And, last but not least, it reconciled me to that little girl who loved popular folk tales.

Published inReviewsStorytelling

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