A Return to Laughter Rothdas book review RSS
5.0 Stars

Another delightful anthropology book. From what I can tell, the defining feature of field anthropologists is a certain insane self-confidence. In this case it is a young and introverted American lady who goes to study a Nigerian tribe, despite not knowing their language or having any camping experience. The start of the book reminded me of a great passage from _Soon I will be Invincible_, in which a super villain does this comic-cliche act of dressing up in spandex and going with his battle-robots to rob a bank. The bare events are dumb and cliche, but the book makes the experience real and forces on your mind just how terrifying it would be try something like that, and the immense chutzpah you would need to walk into a bank with spandex and a freeze ray and declare yourself the enemy of society. Similarly, I'm sure people leave to study other places all the time, but the start of this book brings home just how difficult and unsettling it would be to not know the language, the culture, or even the bare techne of how to live in that biome. The author is very talented, and does a great job of relating her experiences as she gradually unravels the nested puzzles of the tribe's language and culture. You gradually come to know different tribes people with her, and she studies them and their character and actions with a depth that would not be out of place in a Jane Austin or Iris Murdoch novel. Her task isn't made easier by the fact that the people generally subscribe to the Vancian best practices of low-key amorality/deception, which makes unraveling even simple, dinner food related questions quite difficult. Later on in the novel there are more complex plots, as she starts to follow the political struggles of the tribe and learns more about witch craft. In the end she understands their culture better, but is still apart from their them and the brutality/callousness they have to endure. A defining moment for her is when several tribes people are joking about a trick played on a blind person, which of course as Westerners we could never engage in (Imgur front page).

Great book, two thumbs up, would study foreign cultures again.