Book review, from Tokyo – Spaghetti, fettucini, ravioli, lasagna. Pho, pad thai, laksa. Ban mian, fish ball noodles, bak chor mee. Char kway teow, Hokkien mee. Udon, soba, ramen. Rice or flour, sometimes with egg. Shaved, sliced or pulled. Stir-fried or boiled. Soup or dry. Spicy or saucy. Dipped or dunked. There’s just so much variety, I have yet to try them all. I’m sure the inhabitants of Beaston in Jacob Kramer’s Okapi Tale are still cranking all sorts of noodly-things out from Noodlephant’s Phantastic Noodler, but it wasn’t before a struggle against a preying Okapi-talist.
Noodlephant had offered her invention up for everyone to use, and animals came to Rooville, turning it into Beaston. As she set sail to see the world in all its noodly diversity, an Okapi disembarked. He quickly eyed up the town’s assets, buying the Phantastic Noodler off the spiteful kangaroo mayor and building a factory to hire Beaston’s many to crank pasta for shipping, before using the money he made to snap up the shops, and then raise prices to make even more money. Noodlephant, of course, was oblivious to all of this until she spotted up a pack of farfalle from her hometown, which by then had lost the flutter of its butterflies. Returning home with Japanese geta clogs for her friends, after catch-up with some noodles (of course), they hatched a plan to clutter up the Okapi’s production line. Having achieved that, they put the ownership of the Phantastic Noodler to a vote, which was won by the many, and ascertained that the mayor had no right to sell the invention. Having won back their prized asset, Beaston impeached its partisan kangaroo mayor. The story ends with the Okapi eventually leaving to seek profits elsewhere.
Along with the fun and mirth imbued by Kramer, K-Fai Steele’s illustrations add visual references and colour to an already compact tale of the many triumphing over the greedy few. I was entertained by Noodlephant swaying to what seemed like a bon festival in Japan and taking in the sights reminiscent of China’s famed paintbrush landscape, but particularly loved the songs chorusing simple truths.
“To share in common all the things, That help us live throughout our days”
“…making decisions for the many, Not the few”
“Democracy’s for me’s and you’s”
Kramer might have intended it with all the pasta references, but I chuckled as I mouthed the title in Italian. A story not just to enjoy but also contemplate how democracy does not necessarily go hand-in-hand with capitalism, much less greed. It suggests, and I agree, that some things should be public, not privatized, and accessible to all. Can capitalism be harnessed, guided by morals and principles, as some seek to do today? Will development and policy be advised by the limits of our resources? Will we one day realize our place on this planet among its diverse forms of life? More questions for another story, another time.
Title: Okapi Tale by Jacob Kramer, illustrated by K-Fai Steele
Publisher: Enchanted Lion Books, 2020 (hardcover)