The past two weeks, my sons wanted me to read them the Akimbo books by Alexander McCall Smith. They’re about an African boy whose father is a ranger at a game preserve. Akimbo has adventures. Even though I had always intended to read Where the Mountain Meets the Moon with them (before we chose it for book club), I had to start it on my own. We finished our last Akimbo book, though, and now they are getting caught up with Minli and Dragon.
They are exasperated with Magistrate Tiger – what is his problem? There may have been some eye-rolling at the sheer number of talking goldfish, but it’s fun reading aloud with them. They don’t seem to separate the tales from the main plot of the story. In my mind, they are separate, but for my kids, it’s all one story. They have some interesting insights, too.
This week, I noted two major themes in our reading and one intriguing sidebar from a tale Ba told Ma.
A Google search for “the secret to happiness” brings a cornucopia of resources: magazines, psychology websites, business websites, newspapers, blogs. They promise “7 Keys to Happiness,” “20 Secrets to Happiness,” “10 Behaviors for a Happier Life,” and so many have “THE Secret to Happiness.” They don’t all agree on what the secret actually is though. The bottom line runs a spectrum from “happiness is a gene” to “happiness is a choice.”
It looks like we are no closer to finding the secret to happiness than Magistrate Tiger in Ba’s story. Granted, the point of the story was that the secret was something that couldn’t be found, but it intrigued us.
The family full of happy people never claimed to have a secret. Magistrate Tiger assumed there must be one. Otherwise, how do you explain all those happy people? In the end, they wrote what is presumed to have been the secret to happiness on a piece of paper, which was to be taken to the magistrate. But, it was lost along the way. When he went to see them for himself, they had disappeared.
The investigation revealed that the only person who had gotten a good look at the paper was illiterate. But he said, “The line [on the paper] was one word written over and over again, many times.” One of my sons thinks the word must have been “love,” the other that it was simply “happiness.”
Do you have any ideas about what the word could have been? What does it take to live a happy life? Should we search for answers that can’t be found?
Theme 1 – We Can’t Do It Alone
Teamwork is difficult. Interpersonal relationships are complicated, and sometimes the task would be simpler, more efficient if we struck out alone. But this section of the book demonstrates how much we need others. Dragon needed Minli to get past the monkeys; Ba and Ma needed the goldfish and each other; Minli needed the Buffalo Boy, his friend, and the guardian of the city.
Teamwork may be hard and complicated, but we need others in order to succeed in our quests.
Theme 2 – Sacrifice
At the end of our reading for the week, the king didn’t know whether Minli’s quest would be a success. Giving Minli the line that all of his predecessors had used for wise instruction was significant. What could he turn to for advice without it?
We often try to quantify whether or not a sacrifice is worth it. What will we receive or achieve in return? The king had no way to calculate it. All he could do was to read the line one last time. That night, the line read, “You only lose what you cling to.” So the king willingly gave it to Minli.
Does the line ring true for you? Have you seen this concept play out in your own life? Join me in the comments!
Here’s the reading schedule:
June 16 – Chapters 24-38
June 23 – Chapters 39-48
William Carey Publishing is again generously offering us a discount code for our July book! We will be reading Sacred Siblings: Valuing One Another For the Great Commission. Check out the book HERE, and use the discount code VABOOKCLUB50 at purchase.