Thursday, December 24, 2009

Cannonball Read - Book 88

I've read a few books about zombies this year, but this was the first I've ever read about zombis. What's the difference, you ask (other than a missing 'e'?) Zombis actually exist. Here's the back-of-the-book description of The Serpent and the Rainbow:

"In April 1982, ethnobotanist Wade Davis arrived in Haiti to investigate two documented cases of zombis - people had reappeared in Haitian society years after they had been officially declared dead and had been buried. Drawn into a netherworld of rituals and celebrations, Davis pentrated the voudoun mystique deeply enough to place zombification in its proper context within vodoun culture. In the course of his investigation, Davis came to realize that the story of vodoun is the history of Haiti - from the African origins of its people to the successful Haitian independence movement, down to the present day, where vodoun culture is, in effect, the government of Haiti's countryside.
"The Serpent and the Raibow combines anthropological investigation with a remarkable personal adventure to illuminate and finally explain a phenomenon that has long fascinated Americans."

Except for one problem: TSatR illuminated NOTHING! This was one of the most complex, convoluted and confusing books I've ever read. My tiny brain could barely keep up with all the Creole words, much less the scientific names of all kinds of crazy plants. Here's just one sentence from the chapter titled In Summer the Pilgrims Walk: "Puffer fish grown in culture, for example, do not develop tetrodotoxins, and it is possible that the puffer fish, in addition to sythesizing tetrodotoxins, may serve as transvectors of either tetrodotoxin or ciguatoxin, a different chemical that originates in a dinoflagellate and causes paralytic shellfish poisonings." And thank God for the glossary, which I referenced about every eight pages to explain this spirit or that priest.

Not that it wasn't interesting. The sections on the history of Haitian slave revolt were fascinating (and some of the easiest passages to understand). And like most Americans, I know very little about Haitian culture and religion, so yes, it was illumniating. But it was like what I imagine reading a dissertation would be like: at times compelling, at others way over my head.

The Serpent and the Rainbow - B

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