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The UK’s largest charity, Oxfam, has collaborated with independent publisher Profile Books and the Hay Festival to produce a series of four short story collections entitled Ox-Tales. Each collection bears the name of one of the four elements: Earth, Water, Fire and Air to correspond and draw attention to Oxfam’s work in four areas: agriculture, water projects, conflict aid and climate change, respectively.

Top authors from the British Isles including Alexander McCall Smith, Joanna Trollope, Ian Rankin, Ali Smith, Hanif Kureishi, Sebastian Faulks and Helen Fielding have donated bite-sized literary gems to the series, each edition of which begins with a poem by Vikram Seth and concludes with a true story, relevant to the theme of the book.

The fictional stories that make up Ox-Tales: Water don’t all deal with issues of safe drinking water and sanitation. In fact you’d never know there was any connection, because in terms of literary content – there generally isn’t, save for Hari Kunzru’s poignant entry about a beaten-down aid worker with malaria. And this is just fine with me, as the campaign is designed to raise money and attention for important human concerns, rather than preach and cajole via fictionalized tragic accounts of waterborne diseases.

Most engaging are Zoë Heller’s ‘What She Did on Her Summer Vacation’ about an adventurous 14 year-old girl’s trip with her parents to the Caribbean and Esther Freud’s ‘Rice Cakes and Starbucks’, which follows an English actor and his family during an unseasonably wet first week in Los Angeles. On the surreal end are David Park’s ‘Crossing the River’ and Michael Faber’s ‘Walking After Midnight’, which provide intriguing glimpses into the fertile imaginations of their authors.

The volume ends with a brief account of Seraphine, a Congolese woman who struggles to survive and care for her grandchildren in a refugee camp, which Oxfam supplies with clean water. The importance Oxfam’s efforts is quickly brought home, as is what a little extra of our money can do for someone who has so little, so long as there are organizations to do the work. Ox-Tales: Water is available for ₤5 on paperback from Amazon.

Ox-tales: Water is printed on Mixed Sources, using material from well-managed forests and other controlled sources, according to the standards of the Forest Stewardship Council.

About The Author: Graham Land

Greenfudge editor and London-based writer Graham Land grew up in the suburbs of Washington, DC, where he was part of the local hardcore punk scene, playing in several bands. Through this musical movement he became involved in grass roots interests such as anti-racist activism, animal rights and Ecology. In 2000 he relocated to Europe, eventually earning an MA from Malmö University in Sweden. He has also lived in Japan, Ireland, Portugal and Greece.


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