return-laughter-anthropological-novel

First published in 1954 by Harper and Brothers.

The paperback edition I read was published by the Natural History Library in 1964

Now out of print – The Internet site Vialibri may be able to trace a copy.

I was given the paperback edition of this by a very good friend of mine after my trip to Madagascar. It relates the experiences of a newly qualified American anthropologist and her first trip into West Africa to stay with and learn from the local tribes. By turn it made me laugh, horrified and charmed me. It is a fictional account, ‘An anthropological novel’, but based on real experiences.

Africa will always be close to my heart. My mother and her siblings were born there, and my favourite uncle lived there until his death.  I have had some fantastic holidays and experiences there too, both with those who are indigenous and others who are / were not and it is probably this that made me love the book as much as I have.

Apart from relating the views, philosophy, society and life of the various people she came across, it also prompted me to look at the way we behave and to wonder what an anthropologist would think of us, our beliefs, and our society.

It is and was a superb book.

Elenore Smith Bowen is the nom de plume of Laura Bohannan and she included an author’s note:

All the characters in this book, except for myself, are fictitious in the fullest meaning of that word. I knew people of the type I have described here; the incidents of the book are of the genre I myself experienced in Africa. Never-the-less, so much is fiction…Here I have written simply as a human being, and the truth I have tried to tell concerns the sea change in oneself that comes from immersion in another and savage culture.

One of the joys of second-hand, rare or antiquarian books is that sometimes they have that glorious smell that only comes with age. I think Stephen Fry did a ‘thing’ about it on QI – and if I remember correctly stated that the aroma I so enjoyed was from a fungus, that produced aphrodisiac spores.

If that isn’t the case and I either dreamt that or invented it, then it is as good a reason for me to love it as any other.

This small volume is permeated with that wonderful aroma, and is treasured all the more for that, and that my friend thought to give it to me.

 

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