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From Barnes & NobleOur Review
Donna Jo Napoli, the acclaimed author of Zel, Sirena, and Stones in Water, now delivers a version of Beauty and the Beast destined to be a classic. Beast is the story of Orasmyn, a young Persian prince who makes a single wrong decision that sets an ancient curse into motion and forever changes his fate. Transformed into a lion on the exact day his father is to embark on a lion hunt, Orasmyn escapes his beloved Persia and travels across Europe in search of redemption and forgiveness.
Although Beauty and the Beast has been retold many times -- in the form of a story, a movie, a television show, and even a Broadway musical -- it is usually told from Beauty's perspective, leaving readers to wonder what the prince did that was so terrible he was transformed into a beast. Napoli's Beast chronicles who the Beast was before Beauty found him.
Prince Orasmyn, born into a wealthy Muslim family during ancient times, helps a personal servant out of a difficult situation but in doing so violates the Qur'an and is transformed into a lion. Napoli, head of the linguistics department at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, weaves history, biology, foreign languages, and religion into the story of how he deals with this transformation.
Beast is filled with entrancing passages about what it is like for Orasmyn to survive among the lions, deer, snakes, and other animals he encounters in the wild. The book steps into the life of this princely lion convincingly and includes beautifully written episodes about the nature of the hunt. Adapting to the life of a beast is not easy for Orasmyn: "A cub runs between my legs. I trip and roll toward a lioness at one side. Astonishingly, she backs up with a growl. I get to my feet and run straight past her. The ruling male...runs after me.... He chases at a slow pace. Just to let me know that I don't belong, I'm not welcome. This is not my home. I am a lion, and I am not a lion."
A lion in body but not in mind, Orasmyn comes to realize that to break the curse, he must trek through Europe to find someone who will love him. He stumbles upon a castle in the deep woods of France, and the rest of the story is a familiar tale.
Napoli excels in telling Beast for many reasons, including the way she entwines many topics taught in American high schools into the story line. While in the castle's library, for instance, the Beast begins reading the Aeneid, which is studied by many advanced Latin students. The author includes familiar Latin passages and their translations. Farsi (the native language of Persia) and Arabic words are also integrated into the story, and a glossary at the end of the book allows for a better understanding of their meanings.
Middle Eastern religions, often given little attention in classrooms, are also incorporated into Beast, for Orasmyn was raised as a Muslim with Persian customs. The book shows how Islamic culture borrows many of its traditions from the Zoroastrians and how halal meat is prepared according to a sacred ritual, something also seen among Jews. The borrowing of traditions from the region's different religions, although not emphasized in the book, is particularly interesting to consider during a troublesome time in the Middle East today.
At a glance, Beast is a typical fairy tale retold, but the depth and scope of this book are far-reaching. Napoli has written a story best suited for advanced teen readers and even adults. Bring it to your book group. Bring it to your teachers. Bring it to your friends. They will thank you for bringing Beast to their attention.