An Audio Book review of Nelson Mandela’s Favourite African Folktales – Part 1


I absolutely love audio books. It’s not often you see an audio book review so I thought I’d attempt one for Nelson Mandela’s Favourite African Folktales.

This collection of stories was produced by Artists For A New South Africa in 2009 but I only discovered it in my local bookstore earlier this year and bought it a few months back. I was excited about it, not only because a sizeable percentage of the proceeds go to the Nelson Mandela’s Childrens’ Fund, but also because of the stellar cast of Hollywood celebrities who lent their talents to this project.

So many famous names provide their voices for this audio book, that I have split this review in two lest I bore you! So bear with me as I run through them and critique their efforts-you might just find your favourite actor mentioned here!

It was a very smart move getting British veterans Alan Rickman and Helen Mirren on board for this one. I’ve always said that if my book was ever to be made into an audiobook (that’s considering if they ever get published in the first place, of course. I’m an eternal optimist!), I would want Rickman to be the one to read it. And he doesn’t disappoint here as he reads The Ring Of The King while Mirren is incredible as she reads the very poetic The Mother Who turned to Dust.

I’m dreading what I inevitably need to say next, for as much I want to be honest, I risk being harsh and slightly offensive in my analysis. Please understand this is not my intention. It’s just that as these are traditional African stories, hearing typically American accents reading them, seems quite incongruous. I’m not picking, it would be the same if it was, say a Russian or Chinese accent (yet for some strange reason, an Englishman can get away with reading anything!).
After hearing Matt Damon read Mpipidi and the Motlopi Tree and Whoopi Goldberg’s Asmodeus and the Bottler of Djinns (these were on the first CD so naturally I listened to them first), I started to worry as most of the performers on this audio book are American. I found Damon and Goldberg slightly disappointing (although I was impressed with Damon’s pronunciation of some difficult words) as were Forest Whitaker, Blair Underwood and Samuel L. Jackson.

Not all the American stars were disappointing though. Some of them were surprising in a pleasant way.

I found Star Trek’s LeVar Burton’s reading of Van Hunks and the Devil very enjoyable as was Jurnee Smollett’s telling of The Enchanting Song of the Magical Bird.
I was very surprised by Scarlet Johansson (who I didn’t expect much from, to be honest). She has a delightfully sweet voice and it suited the story of The Snake Chief.

The person I’m most impressed with however is Benjamin Bratt. He has a silky smooth voice and he knows how to control it. You actually forget that he’s American when you are listening to The Wolf Queen. He should read for more audio books, methinks because I can definitely listen to his voice the whole day if I had to.

Bratt’s reading was definitely the best of all the performers.Now for the worst.

I have to say that the biggest joke/idiot award has to go to……….Sean Hayes.

I’m not a professional actor so maybe it’s not my place to say but aren’t thespians supposed to be versatile?

When I pressed PLAY on my CD player for How Hlakanyana Outwitted the Monster, I expected more from Hayes. A change in accent maybe, or even just a slight change in tone or inflection.
Imagine my shock and horror on hearing the unmistakable voice of Jack MacFarlane coming through the speakers and grating my poor ears! And why on earth did they give him the story whose main character’s name is the hardest to pronounce? How Hlakanyana Outwitted the Monster is the only story on the audio book I have not listened to in its entirety, only because it was impossible to do so.

Hayes’ Will and Grace co-star Debra Messing fared much better I thought. She has a nice reading voice, although on telling the more dramatic scenes from Words as Sweet as Honey from Sankhambi, I couldn’t help picturing Grace Adler being overly dramatic and gesticulating wildly in the recording studio!

I guess there’s a reason some actors are only known for the roles that made them famous and nothing else.

I’m not done with this review as yet. There’s more tomorrow! Plus I’ll include a link where you can purchase this audiobook….

NM  🙂

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15 thoughts on “An Audio Book review of Nelson Mandela’s Favourite African Folktales – Part 1

  1. Martin Shone says:

    I have to agree with your comment regarding the choice of reader – the wrong one can ruin the story completely. I have a CD of short horror fiction (or had, I can’t find it at the moment) and the first story is fine, but the others are not good and it’s all the same reader!

    It makes me wonder how they get the job.

    • Nisha says:

      For different stories, I feel there should be different readers but I’m interested in this CD of yours. Are these famous stories(or by famous authors)?
      I listened to a short horror story audiobook from the library a few years back-with stories by de Maupassant, Poe and Saki, etc. all read by an Irish dude. Just wondering if its the same one… 😀

      • Martin Shone says:

        Yes this seems to be the same one. Just found mine under the bookshelf!? It’s black and red, called Beyond The Shadows with those you mention and Alcott. She has a very high voice, I enjoyed the Poe Tell Tale Heart. Read by Emma Chamberlain.

  2. Martin Shone says:

    Ah no mine hasn’t got Maupassant – mine’s Poe, Saki, Alcott and Hawthorne.

    • Nisha says:

      Ah no its not the same, the one I listened to had a guy reading and he wasn’t too bad.

      It does make you wonder how they get the job-I mean they obviously audition for it, right? In this Mandela audiobook it’s clear that the Hollywood actors were only chosen because they were famous-not that its a bad thing, it was done for a good cause, so in view of that I guess I cant complain too much 😉

  3. I gave this book to my niece for Christmas last year… It’s gorgeous! Terrific review, Nisha… I appreciate your honest and poignant insight!

  4. nelle says:

    At the beginning of your post, I was kind of hoping Mandela did one of the voices. 😦 As an American, no offence taken on the voices – hell, I write in British English. 🙂 With you on Helen Mirren, one of my favourites.

    Um… why not African voices?

    • Nisha says:

      Ha ha! That would have been awesome if he did read one of the stories! But at his age, I dont think the poor guy would have been up to it! 😦

      Shew!*wipes brow in relief* I was seriously hoping no American blogger would bust my chops, and its a good question you ask. The most obvious answer I could think of, was that they were thinking of the International market and were probably hoping that the big Hollywood names would draw people in.
      At least the background music was performed by South Africans (look out for tomorrow’s post!)which added an authentic touch… 😀

  5. nelle says:

    Of course… most Americans would probably want to throw me out. 😉 Mandela has always mesmerised me with his speeches, I bet he could make it work.

    • Nisha says:

      I wouldnt blame them for being slightly offended – I suppose everybody’s entitled to their opinions but I’m glad you are on my side with this one Nelle! 😀

      Loving your comments here btw, you definitely growing on me! 😉

  6. trixfred30 says:

    Benjamin Bratt is one of those hidden talents…he’s an actor rather than a star

    • Nisha says:

      I know a lot of women like him for other reasons other than his acting but I personally didnt think much of him or his looks. Then when I heard him reading I was blown away by his voice! I definitely feel differently about him now 🙂

  7. jenniferneri says:

    Wow, odd selection of cast…I know this has nothing to do, but you brought me back to when a short story of mine was read on the radio by an actress (i only heard it when it was aired), and boy, was it weird to hear, the voice was nothing like the one I imagined. I feel for authors whose works are turned into movies, it must be so difficult at times…

    • Nisha says:

      Must have been a weird feeling, hearing your own story being read out loud by someone else?
      I have been wondering how actors are chosen to read audiobooks or even stories on radio. It definitely requires talent because all you have to rely on is your voice! But the wrong voice can certainly mess things up. You are right though, It cant be as bad as movies-scriptwriters butchering your creation and changing it to suit their fancy. At least with audiobooks, they read your work as is, word for word! 🙂

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