MUMBO JUMBO by Ishmael Reed Book Review: A novel about Haiti and America and Ragtime 90 Years Ago
“It’s a way we had over here for living with ourselves. We cut ’em in half with a machine gun and give ’em a Band-Aid. It was a lie. And the more I saw them, the more I hated lies.”– Apocalypse Now
I just finished Ishmael Reed’s 1971 Novel MUMBO JUMBO, a biting, absurdist, fantastic satire, that also happens to be, like the best of satires, a cutting and revealing and true depiction of our ids and our angsts. It is for a work of fiction, far more true than are so-called “history”. It is such a rich and deep and sprawling and compelling and… brilliant novel.
I consider myself a pretty informed reader, and this 4 decade old novel had insights into not just our history but our humanity, that i had never even considered.
How it defined Museums as store-houses for Pirated/Stolen goods.
I’ve been in and out of museums all my life, and it never even occurred to me to consider them in the context of Robber-Baron’s basically raping and destroying civilizations and bringing home to the west their trophies. Their stolen goods.
And this was like a throw away line in the novel, and it blew my mind. That I who consider myself relatively afro-centric that it did not even occur to me to question the origin and rightness of Museums. And the whole novel is like this, one smashing revelation after another.
And yes it’s a work of sensational fiction, but what makes it even more sensational are the parts of it… that ring true, are true. And speak even today… of true things.
From the hidden Haitian War and Holocaust of the early 20th century, which oddly mirrors the conflicts in Haiti today, even to the search for a talking Android to lead the people astray, which without too much of a jump can be compared to today’s President Obama…. it is almost a prophetic work. Or perhaps it just illustrates how history not learned from, is repeated.
This is the type of book that school curriculums that teach children of color… should cover. Must cover. It’s the kind of book… written with brilliance, and that inspires, ignites a real fire… for more brilliance, and more questions and answers.
It’s the kind of book that inspires… real learning.
It is a challenging read, but stick with it as it does all come together. And I highly recommend hunting down the griot audio book version which is FANTASTIC! It is an essential read, and in light of recent issues in Haiti, I think a surprisingly timely and insightful one. A satire that hints at much that is true, about Haiti’s tumultuous and troubled relationship with Western Powers.
It is an essential purchase. B+/A-
On Presidents, Breaking Faith, Endless Wars and You
What if we’re wrong?
What if we are wrong about all the things we wanted to be right about?
What if we’re wrong about apple pie, and liberty, and democracy?
What if we are a police state, not for the good of the many, but for the greed of the few?
What if the FDA doesn’t care about protecting you? What if they don’t care about you staying well? What if a nation filled with the sick, is of more value to them, and their pharmaceutical backers, then a nation committed to being well?
What if a President rode to victory on the promises and the hopes of generations past and generations present, and in a few short months has completely betrayed every oath and every promise?
What if he answers to the same ends, and administers the same means, by which our world has been brought to this endless war? To this odd age, where all America has left to sell… is death.
What if it’s a game? The Republican and the Democrats, rigged puppets pulled by the highest bidder. And your life the ball they play with. What if we are a nation, that is ruled by gangsters and goons and greed?
What if the only true service your nation wants from you, is capitulation, and apathy, and fear?
What if our government taps our phones, reads our emails. monitors our correspondences, fragments our unity, intimidates our associates, and decimates our liberties?
If it does all those things to even one, one person, one group, one area… without checks, without balances, without oversight, is it still our government?
Or is it a state of monstrous governors and the mutely governed? Of butchers and their sheep?
And if so, what are you prepared to give up, to live by their rules, and what are you prepared to give up… to live by your own.
Odd questions for a Friday. Perhaps made all the more odd, by the certainty of the answers.