This weekend, I went to Dartmouth to visit the beautiful Greenway, former home of the wonderful Agatha Christie. A fascinating place to visit, this weekend was extra special because Greenway was hosting its first literary festival.
Having visited the house and the boathouse- scene of one of the murders in ‘Dead Man’s Folly’- I made my way to the festival tent to see Beverley Naidoo, an amazing storyteller, who was going to be talking about her books ‘Cinderella of the Nile’ and ‘Journey to Jo’burg’.
Starting with ‘Cinderella of the NIle’, Beverley explained that the version of the story she has retold is the earliest known telling of the Cinderella story. Red-haired, rosy-cheeked Rhodopis is captured in the mountains of Greece and is sold in Samos, where wise storyteller Aesop befriends her. However, he master is angered by her sorrow and decides to send her away. Sold again in Egypt, she is given a pair of rose-red slippers by the merchant, Charaxos, who buys her. When Horus steals one of her slippers, Rhodopis ends up living happily ever after with Pharaoh Amasis.
It’s a wonderful re-telling, illustrated by Iranian artist, Marjan Vafaeian, whose pictures Beverley obviously loves. Some of the children in the audience had been working from this book in school; other had been working from the second book Beverley spoke about, ‘Journey to Jo’burg’.
Beverley read the opening of the story and explained how different South Africa had been when she wrote the story thirty four years ago. Telling stories from her own childhood, growing up there, Beverley really challenged the audience to think about how different the lives of the privileged white children were to those of the black children. Explaining that she had written the book because she was angry about the way things were and wanted to challenge things that were taken for granted, Beverley spoke movingly of her ‘second mother’, Mma Sebate and how, although the book had been dedicated to her, Beverley been unable to use her real name for fear that Mma Sebate would get into trouble for being associated with it.
The book was banned in South Africa at the time and when Beverley sent copies of it to her niece and nephew who were living there, they were confiscated and her sister-in-law received an unpleasant letter from the government telling her this! Such an important, powerful book, ‘Journey to Jo’burg’ is as much a ‘must read’ today as it was 34 years ago.
This was a fascinating session in a beautiful location. I hope that Greenway is planning on hosting another literary festival next year!
You can read about Beverley’s session at the Hay Festival last year here.