SUN.Tolowa M. Mollel...

AN AFRICAN STORY: APROMISE IN THE

January 10, 1993|By JUDITH ROSENFELD MUSIC AND THE MIND. Anthony Storr. Free Press. 206 pages. $22.95. | JUDITH ROSENFELD MUSIC AND THE MIND. Anthony Storr. Free Press. 206 pages. $22.95.,LOS ANGELES TIMES TRACKING MACKENZIE TO THE SEA: COAST TO COAST IN EIGHTEEN SPLASHDOWNS. Robert J. Hing. # Anchor Watch Press. 220 pages. $19.95 (paperback).

AN AFRICAN STORY: A

PROMISE IN THE SUN.

Tolowa M. Mollel; illustrated by

Beatriz Vidal.

Little, Brown.

32 pages. $15.95. Ages 6-10.

To illuminate different cultures, authors and illustrators have studied folk tales to select the most interesting stories to share with young readers. And now from Tanzania comes Tolowa M. Mollel to tell the story of "A Promise in the Sun," and the consequences of a promise not kept.

When a severe drought dries the streams, turns the savannah brown and shrivels the banana trees, the birds decide to draw lots to choose who will search for rain. When it falls to their cousin, Bat, to make the journey, he flies to Moon, Stars and Wind, and finally to Sun to plead, "Earth asks for rain!" At last, Sun agrees, if the birds will build a nest on the forest top for him to rest in at night so he won't have to make the arduous journey to the horizon. Bat promises for the birds. Sun obliges and burns down upon the earth, causing steam to rise, winds to blow, clouds to gather, rain to fall and streams to flow. The world is green again.

But the birds are too busy harvesting crops and celebrating to keep the promise. Ashamed, embarrassed and frightened of Sun, Bat hides in a cave, venturing out only when Sun has set. Sun continues to keep the earth green, but the birds have never found the time to build the nest they promised, and Bat spends long days in a cave, away from Sun.

Beatriz Vidal's paintings of birds in watercolors, acrylics and crayons re-create beautifully the visual world of Africa. Sun and Bat are the losers, but the world is better for their work. Enamored with music ("it is an irreplaceable, undeserved, transcendental blessing") British psychiatrist Anthony Storr clearly yearns to find a connection between it and his own life pursuit -- the study of the mind. But after enlisting every discipline from philosophy to medicine in his search, he is forced to concede that music, like the heart, may affect us too intangibly to be understood through intellectualizations: "The brain operates in mysterious ways which are not under voluntary control: we must sometimes let it alone if it is to function at its best."

Rather than the pioneering scientific work it initially promises to be, then, this book ultimately becomes a love letter to what Dr. Storr sees as a "fixed point of reference in an unpredictable world . . . a source of reconciliation, exhilaration, and hope."

While on the way to that romantic conclusion, though, his bold, XTC broad-minded inquiry manages to unravel a few of music's secrets. The author sees music as a kind of medicine, a balm against the most ubiquitous of human maladies: the sense that the world is chaotic and unpredictable. There's something very appealing about chucking it all and taking off for an exotic trip. While everyone else heads for Cancun, you can let it drop that you'll be doing something a little bit different -- like, say, re-creating Foster Mackenzie's famous 1792-93 trip from Montreal to Bella Coola, a village on the coast of British Columbia.

That's precisely what Robert Hing did in the summer of 1990 in his Cessna 140 floatplane. After getting some training on piloting the seaplane from Mike Forster in Back River, Mr. Hing set out in June on his journey, which was to cover 4,500 miles. He arrived in Bella Coola, B.C., a month later, eliciting this response from someone working the seaplane dock: "Hey, this guy came all the way from Montreal! In a little plane like that!"

It must have been an exhilarating moment, but Mr. Hing, as he is throughout the book, is disturbingly circumspect. I would have liked much more from and about the author -- such as where he lives, what he had done with his life before this trip -- but "Tracking Mackenzie" is long on details and historical research and short on personal impressions. A memorable trip across Canada, alas, gets the once-around-the-block treatment.

TIM WARREN

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