by Sahana C.
Some really popular retellings of myths are going around now: The Song of Achilles, Circe, and The Women of Troy, to name a few. But all three have one thing in common: they center Greek and Roman mythology. The world of myth is much more vast than Greek and Roman mythology, and Bolu Babalola weaves her magic around folktales from West Africa, the Middle East, and even China, alongside Greek and Roman myths that she writes through a more diverse slant. She brings these often untold tales to the forefront with her compilation of short stories, Love in Color: Mythical Tales from Around the World, Retold.
More than just retellings of these myths, however, Babalola brings each story fully into the modern world. Instead of Scheherazade being a trapped princess, she’s a journalist managing some dangerous new sources. Psyche works for Eros’s mother in a fiercely corporate world that she wants to break free from. This, too, is a break from tradition among popular retellings today, and it adds to the timeless nature of the stories by showing just how universal each love story really is.
The stories are not too long, with just enough context and world building in each to make readers fall firmly in love with the world, to build a new universe around these characters, and make them fall in love with each other. These stories don’t necessarily keep all the magic and mythic details consistent, but the essence of the myth, what it would mean in the modern context, remains the same. Instead of magic crocodile skins that cause them strife in their personal lives, for example, characters have vitiligo, a skin condition that they have to learn to love about themselves.
Personally, Nefertiti’s story, Zhinu’s, and Thisbe’s have been at the forefront of my mind since reading, each taking the original myth and twisting it into something lovely and appropriate for a modern age, while retaining a timeless quality. The stories revolve around love; love and POC joy are centered with every character. In the ordinarily Eurocentric realm of mythology, Love in Color is the best of romance: poignant, beautiful, complex in plot but simple enough to convey its message.
I would lean towards reading up about each myth before reading the stories, however. The myths that I had context for, I enjoyed more upon a first read than the others, but after doing some research on the other stories, I went back and enjoyed the less familiar stories just as much on a reread.
The publisher review for the anthology notes the diversity of the source material, saying, “Focusing on the magical folktales of West Africa, Babalola also reimagines Greek myths, ancient legends from the Middle East, and stories from long-erased places. With an eye towards decolonizing tropes inherent in our favorite tales of love, Babalola has created captivating stories that traverse across perspectives, continents, and genres.”
Love in Color: Mythical Tales from Around the World, Retold by Bolu Babalola is available in print.
Sahana is an Instructor and Research Specialist at the Savage Branch. She enjoys adding books to her “want to read” list despite having a mountain of books waiting for her already.