I ordered this book a while ago online. There is a whole series of Nasreddin Hodja, so I picked a title at random. I read it when it arrived and the story seemed to wander more than my attention span could follow. So naturally, I had my children read it, and they said it seemed funny, but they didn’t understand it. I glanced through it again and figured maybe it was one of those beloved cultural characters that just lost some of their charm in translation. In this case, Nasreddin Hodja is a folktale type character born in the 13th century from Konya, Turkey, who is the star of short stories that teach a point in a silly way. The opening page tells a bit about him and what you can hope to learn in the story, but it didn’t help understand why the book was so fragmented.
In my latest move, I found the book again, read it again, and was stumped again. But luckily this time I contacted a Turkish friend instead of putting it back on the shelf and realized this book does not do Nasreddin Hodja justice, he is a hoot. The book, not so much.
So first, a review of the book. The book is beautiful and fun to look at. The colorful glossy pages and clear font invite readers between ages 6-9 to read it and younger kids to have the story read to them. The illustrations are delightful and after hearing about Nasreddin Hodja I think they convey his silly, yet wise persona.
Unfortunately the story is long. At 32 pages with a fair amount of text on each page the author seems to try and take three tales and connect them into one coherent story. The result is an abundance of detail that doesn’t move the story to his poignant conclusion and instead results in unresolved tangents. For example in the first part of the story, he goes to the market to buy a few things for an alfresco breakfast with his wife. Along the way he stops at a fountain to drink some water, he then begins shopping and after listing off dozens of vegetables and fruits, and details how he buys each item and what season they come from, he gets to his commentary of how silly a man selling a parrot for a ton of money is. He then returns home to get his turkey to make the point to the parrot vendor that if he is asking 50 pieces of silver for a parrot that can talk, he will sell his turkey who can think for 100 pieces of silver.
This story covers about 17 pages of the book, but the same tale as told on the website http://www.readliterature.com/hodjastories.htm is only a few short sentences.
One day The Hodja was walking around in the market place. He saw a bright-coloured bird for sale for 12 gold coins. Hodja was amazed. He approached the crowd gathered around the bird and its seller.
How can a bird be so expensive?’ he asked the people watching the bird.
This is a special bird,’ they explained, `it can talk like a human being!’
This gave Hodja an idea. He went straight to his home, grabbed his turkey and brought him to the market place. He stood near the man selling the parrot.
Turkey, for sale, ten gold coins!’ he yelled.
Hodja Effendi, how can a turkey be worth ten gold coins?’ the shoppers protested.
There is a bird there for 12 gold.’ insisted the adamant Hodja.
But Hodja Effendi, that bird can talk like a human being.’ the people tried to reason. But Hodja was unbending.
And this turkey can think like a human being.’ he countered.
Obviously I can understand what the writer was trying to do. But, unfortunately it doesn’t work. Mina Javaherbin did something similar when retelling Rumi’s poems in children’s book form, but she had better luck. Perhaps if the author would have kept them shorter and not embellished them to teach so many lessons about vocabulary and seasons and colors it would have actually had a begining, middle and end. Early readers will find the pages over bearing and fluid readers will see the holes in the narrative. Perhaps if each story were only a few pages there would have been a plot and take-away-lesson. Unfortunately as written Hodja’s message gets lost and the reader takes very little if anything away from the book.
When you research some of Nasreddin Hodja’s stories they are fun, and it becomes easy to see why children (according to my friend) dress up as him in school and he is quoted and referenced so widely and lovingly. His stories work well in an oral tradition, obviously, and if you follow my mother’s advice (a preschool teacher for a few dozen years) and “tell” a story to little kids instead of “read” it, this book can get some use. In story time with 3 to 5 year olds showing the pictures and talking about what is going on, on each page before winding around to the point allows them to to interact with the pictures and story and the reader to impart some of this beloved characters insight on to the audience.