Sunday, 8 March 2015

The King and the Sea: book review

The King and the Sea

Book review by Trevor Agnew


The King and the Sea: 21 Extremely Short Stories (2015) Heinz Janisch, Wolf Erlbruch, Gecko Press, Wellington, NZ, 48 pages 

Paperback: ISBN  978 1 927271 80 3

Hardback: ISBN 978 1 877579 94 3

“How are you?” enquired the King.

“That’s what I’ve been asking you all along,” said the book.

This book contains 21 short stories about a king and his relationship with the world around him. Some of the stories are very short (just as the sub-title promises). In fact, the quotation above is the complete text of Story 20.

Most of the stories show the king – a small plump bald man of middle age – encountering some aspect of nature and learning small lessons about himself. Oceans, stars, squirrels and clouds each have something to teach the king.

When he tells a bee to buzz off, he gets his nose stung. She is, of course, a queen bee.

When the king commands a trumpet to play for him, there is no response. He realises that “you don’t like playing on your own” and takes a deep breath.

 When he orders a dog to sit, it runs away and the king has to run after it.

And so the 21 stories, each a tiny fable posing a question about the balance between true leadership and authority. Young readers are left to spot the moral of each story.

Wolf Erlbruch‘s colour illustrations – some simple, almost childlike, and some elegant decoupage – complement Heinz Janisch’s text.

The King and the Sea was first published in Germany in 2008 as Der König und das Meer.

The 2015 English translation is by Sally-Ann Spencer.


Trevor Agnew 

5 Feb 2015




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