Excerpt from The Beggar King and the Secret of Happiness by Joel ben Izzy, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Beggar King and the Secret of Happiness

by Joel ben Izzy

The Beggar King and the Secret of Happiness
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  • First Published:
    Nov 2003, 228 pages
    Sep 2005, 240 pages

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Print Excerpt

Lenny had collected many such grains over the years and they stuck to him, like grit to sandpaper, which may account for his personality. Yet his warning comes to mind whenever I use the word "truth."

That said, I'll tell you my tale essentially as it happened, though I will change some parts along the way, for that is what we storytellers do. Yet, as you read this book, you may find some things that strike you as flat-out unbelievable. I know, for that is just how they struck me when they happened. These are things I could not have made up, and so I'll leave them unchanged. As Mark Twain said: "Truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn't."

With that, sit back and let me tell you my tale, of a journey that took me through dark times, yet gave me a gift that I treasure. That gift is this story, which I now pass on to you -- a tale of lost horses and found wisdom, of buried treasures and wild strawberries, of the beggar king and the secret of happiness



Story Origin: China The Lost Horse

Long ago in a village in northern China, there lived a man who owned a magnificent horse. So beautiful was this horse that people came from miles around just to admire it. They told him he was blessed to own such a horse.

"Perhaps," he said. "But what seems like a blessing may be a curse."

One day, the horse ran off. It was gone. People came to say how sorry they were for his bad luck.

"Perhaps," he said. "But what seems like a curse may be a blessing."

A few weeks later, the horse returned. It was not alone. It was followed by twenty-one wild horses. By the law of the land, they became his property. He was rich with horses.

His neighbors came to congratulate him on his good fortune. "Truly," they said, "you have been blessed."

"Perhaps. But what seems like a blessing may be a curse."

Shortly after that his son--his only son--tried to ride one of the wild horses. He was thrown from it and broke his leg. The man's neighbors came to say how sorry they were. Surely, he had been cursed. "Perhaps," he said. "But what seems like a curse may be a blessing."

A week later, the king came through that village, drafting every able-bodied young man for a war against the people of the north. It was a horrible war. Everyone who went from that village was killed. Only that man's son survived, because of his broken leg.

To this day, in that village, they say, "What seems like a blessing may be a curse. What seems like a curse may be a blessing."

Chapter One The Lost Horse

Just how I came to be a storyteller is a story in itself, a tale of curses turned to blessings. I certainly wasn't born into the art, though I've met many who were. In a pub at the southernmost tip of Ireland I heard a genuine seanachie, who sang the ancient ballads with such resonance that you could hear the ghosts of his ancestors singing the chorus. In the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem I came to know a Hassidic maggid who could trace his lineage back to Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav, the great eighteenth-century mystic teller of tales. And once, on the north shore of Oahu, in Hawaii, I shared the stage with a woman who had been chosen as treasurer of five thousand years' worth of her ancestors' stories. Me, I had no such credentials, and it always left me feeling a little embarrassed among other storytellers. I had grown up in the least magical place on earth, the suburbs of the suburbs to the east of Los Angeles. Where my family lived there were no movie stars, no beaches--no water of any sort, for that matter. In fact, there was no geography at all, as far as we could tell; though we were told of purple mountains to the north, we could not see them through the smog.

Excerpted from The Beggar King and The Secret of Happiness.  Copyright © 2003 by Joel Ben Izzy. Reprinted with the permission of Workman Publishing Co., Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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