Beyond the Book: Background information when reading Anansi Boys

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Anansi Boys

by Neil Gaiman

Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman X
Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2005, 336 pages
    Paperback:
    Oct 2006, 416 pages

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Neil Gaiman grew up in England and, although Jewish, attended Church of England schools, including Ardingly College, a boarding school in West Sussex (South of England).  During the early 1980s he worked as a journalist and book reviewer.  His first book was a biography of the band Duran Duran.  He moved from England to his wife's hometown in the American midwest several years ago. He and his family now live in a renovated Victorian farmhouse where (he says) his hobbies are writing things down, hiding, and talking about himself in the third person. 

In addition to American Gods, Anansi Boys and Coraline (a fantastically creepy book for children, particularly so in the audio version read by the author), Gaiman has published an enormous variety of short stories, graphic novels and comics - far too many to list here, but you'll find a very comprehensive list at the ever-reliable fantasticfiction.co.uk and more biographical information at BookBrowse.

Just Published (Sept 2006): Fragile Things: Short Stories and Wonders, Gaiman's third collection of 31 short stories, with a 32nd slipped into the introduction.  Other than the reviewer for Publishers Weekly (who thinks it disappointing) most critics give this collection very positive reviews, with Kirkus summing things up saying, "He wears his pop cred in boldface, and street-smart hipness saturates these eerie epiphanies. But the collection also boasts lush prose, a lack of irony and a winning faith in the enchantment of stories. Expect the unexpected. Then savor the luscious chills."

Anansi is one of the gods in West African mythology, sometimes depicted in human form, sometimes as a spider, sometimes as a hybrid.  He's tricky, greedy and lustful, but he's also good-hearted, lucky, and although often bad, never evil.  The legends are believed to have originated with the Ashanti tribe (from Ghana) but spread through the Akan people (the Akan being a number of different West African tribes linked by a shared language).  As the son of Nyame, the sky god, some myths said that Anansi created the sun, the stars and the moon, and taught mankind how to farm.  He is also considered the King of All Stories.

Anansi himself was only caught once, when he was tricked into fighting a tar-baby - and if that story sounds as familiar to you as it did to me, it's probably because you remember the Br'er Rabbit stories which have their roots in African-American folktales, and are apparently retellings of the Anansi stories.

This article is from the October 19, 2006 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.

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