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Reviews of A Woman Walking

A Woman WalkingThe Wandering Storyteller

“There are parts of a story that are known by the storyteller, but in every story there is a mystery,” writes Nancy King in A Woman Walking.  “Listeners imagine what happened or how people look, and this is why the same story is different for each person who hears it.  Then new stories arise to answer questions about the old story.  To me, this is a kind of magic.”

It is this narrative fluidity and magic that infuses Nancy’s novel.  The story moves along with the timeless pulse of a folktale.  It is a story about a storyteller whose journey is shaped by stories.  As such it is a story of becoming one’s self, following creativity, of being immersed in the vital flow of life.  It is also a story of how all these forces, internal and external, shape the story of who we are and how we live.

A Woman Walking has a lightness to it that is unique.  It feels as if it were told, rather than written.  There are few writers who can write this way without seeming naïve or dull.  One of the writers who comes to mind is Marguerite Duras, who is most well known for The Lover.   Another is Paulo Coelho, though his work is not as graceful as Duras’.  Herman Hesse’s novels Narcissus and Goldmund and Siddhartha also came to mind.  Hesse’s books have the same lightness and fluidity, a similar airiness, yet also grapple with the rich territories of the growing spirit and self.  Nancy’s novel has another thing in common with Hesse: each story is a pilgrimage.

A Woman Walking has a gentle wisdom to it.  The protagonist’s stories are often highly intuitive, leading to discoveries in herself and her audience.  She often uncovers secret histories of her listeners, without knowing them.  When asked where the stories come from Ninan responds:

“I do not decide what happens.  The story tells itself,” or “I did not learn it.  No one taught it to me.  The words just came.  I do not know from where.  Or how….  The story told itself, from a place deep within me.”

Ninan guards her gift as she guards herself.  She surrounds herself with nature and silence to absorb new stories.  Walking is an essential part of separation and distance that helps her find herself in order to find the next story.   “I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown,” John Muir wrote in 1913, “for going out, I found, was really going in.”   “Walks,” writes Jules Renard, “The body advances, while the mind flutters around it like a bird.”  Ninan befriends people and even falls in love at one point, yet lets neither pin her down since she knows her path is walking.

A Woman Walking is a unique and delicious story that rings true with its simple profundity.

— Jonathan Ashworth

A Woman Walking is many folk tales within a folk tale. Ninan has inherited her grandfather's book of tales -- and the responsibility to wander the world telling his stories. She canot refuse this task for there is no one else in the family who has been given the gift of storytelling.

At first she rebels, questioning why she should be deprived of a normal life. She reluctantly begins her travels, but finds she cannot tell her grandfather's stories. She is compelled to tell the stories that come from within. She travels far and wide, stopping at villages and towns to tell her tales. Each time she stops, she makes friends and wonders again why she must spend her life alone. She asks herself again and again, "Is storytelling enough to fill my life? Will I never be able to put down roots and have a normal life?"

When Ninan meets a man who says he loves her and wants to spend his life traveling with her, she makes a decision that shows she accepts her own identity as a storyteller and a woman.

— Reading New Mexico

We tell stories to make sense of our lives. Storytelling is not only a source of meaning but of survival. In Nancy King's mythic tale A Woman Walking, a young girl has to choose between staying home in an ordinary life and taking on the task of travel and story making. A bit of fairy tale, a bit of Ursula LeGuin, and the author's own vision bring these tales to life.

— Miriam Sagan, Gossip, Tres Chicas Press, and Map of the Lost, University of New Mexico Press

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Updated February 2020.

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