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Return to Laughter: An Anthropological Novel

3.60  ·  Rating Details  ·  439 Ratings  ·  33 Reviews
A vivid and dramatic account of the experiences of an American anthropologist who lived with a primitive bush tribe in Africa.
Paperback, 320 pages
Published February 20th 1964 by Anchor (first published 1954)
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(showing 1-30 of 1,012)
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Aug 21, 2015 Wendy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An absolutely stunning book, which I read on the high recommendation of Michael Taussig in I SWEAR I SAW THIS. Here is a novel utterly neglected by so-called literary specialists, one that belongs on those "100 Best Novels of the Century" lists. Put it on the shelf next to HEART OF DARKNESS and MY LIFE IN THE BUSH OF GHOSTS.
Jan 31, 2010 Adam rated it did not like it
one of the most insufferable reading experiences of my life. Could not wait to get it over with. I fully understand Bohannon's decision to write this as a novel. What I don't understand is who/what gave her the impression she was an able storyteller. The prose is absolutely horrible. The final chapter is quite nicely-done, though, and is the only one in which Bohannon's insights and philosophizing seem valuable. Regardless, I understand why this is of value to anthropology students, though I fin ...more
Written by anthropologist Laura Bohannon in 1954, based on living with the Tiv group of Nigeria in 1949-1953. Absolutely fascinating account of her struggles to learn and understand local culture and beliefs, and the conflicts with her own beliefs and morals. What about witchcraft, ostracizing someone accused of witchcraft, herself being ostracized for continuing to visit this person. Should/can she live and act as the others do? or does she want to retain some of her own value system, at the ri ...more
Feb 02, 2016 Maria rated it really liked it
Return to laughter is the personal account of Laura Bohannan 19s experiences as an anthropologist in Africa. To distance herself from the seriousness of the scientific enterprise, she has published under the pen name of Elenore Smith Bowen. The book follows her 1Cadventure 1D from the very beginning 13 her arrival among the tribe. It 19s mostly centered about self-reflection and the conflict of being a person from a culture studying a completely different culture as accurately as possible. Her r ...more
Jessica Barkl
Jun 03, 2015 Jessica Barkl rated it it was amazing
I feel as though I know Laura Bohannan aka Elenore Smith Bowen. For the past semester that I've slowly re-read this book, I've felt as though we've become friends, and I didn't want this book's adventures to end because then I wouldn't see my friend anymore.

From the back cover of the 1964 edition by Margaret Mead: "It is remarkable to have a novel included int eh Natural History Library, but RETURN TO LAUGHTER is a remarkable novel. A vivid and dramatic account of the profound change experience
Jess Moss
Jun 11, 2014 Jess Moss rated it really liked it
This was an excellent book. Though it is fiction, it is based on Bohannon's actual experiences doing anthropological fieldwork. Through reading this, I really feel like I have some sense of what it was like for her living with the Tiv. Absolutely fascinating. I highly recommend!
Jan 04, 2008 Jess rated it really liked it
I've read this book three times in classes, but I still love it. As a bigger fan of literature than non-fiction, this book was perfect for me, because it is a true story told very fancifully. Though there is some question of how much this approach affects the anthropological value of the text, I think it is a brilliant way to introduce students to the world of anthropology.
Sep 24, 2015 Shannon rated it it was ok
I really disliked this book and certainly would not have finished it if I weren't reading it for class; I feel kind of like I wasted my time by finishing it anyway. I won't give it one star because I reserve that for the worst of the worst and, regardless of my personal opinion, this book obviously has a lot of historical and anthropological importance, but I found very little to actually enjoy in it.

The problem, basically, is with the narrator, who is obviously a fictionalized representation of
I didn't much care for the attempt to rationalize away cruelty, but I liked the bits in which the women made a spirited defense of polygyny. People tend to assume that women won't approve of polygyny, but the Tiv women argue the advantages to the women, which are often ignored.
Apr 15, 2008 Nancy rated it it was amazing
This is a book that I read in 1975 which inspired me to join the Peace Corps as a young woman. For Christmas my husband searched out of print books and found a copy for me. I read it again and still loved it.
I love the concept of magic and witchcraft in medicine. It helps to keep a perspective on our own ideas of infallible medicine and killer "germs."
Dane O'Leary
While this book might not be the cutting-edge of anthropological research today, it has become known as one of the most impotent stepping-stones for ethnography today. Much of what's described in the story are the true experiences of the author (which is the pen name of real-life anthropology Laura Boahannon). It's quite interesting to watch her attempt to reconcile her Western habits with those of the 'primitive' Tiv society--I especially enjoyed the bit where she explained adapting the time on ...more
Dec 16, 2011 Heather rated it really liked it
As the back cover announces, this book provides a view into the private trials of field work. More than that, it also delivers insight into the heart and mind of an obstinate, paternalistic, and sometimes indignantly self-righteous mid-twentieth century anthropologist. In the book, we find her struggling against a deteriorating sense of cultural superiority that arises as she confronts and is forced to concede, both privately and publicly, her own ignorance and "stupidity" in a culturally "alien ...more
Apr 11, 2014 Eileen rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
Written by a real anthropologist, this book is about a fictional anthropologist on her first assignment in the field. She arrives in an unnamed African country to learn the language and customs of the people she's studying. Her values, prejudices, and principles all come into play as she tries to be culturally sensitive but not lose her sense of self in this foreign environment. Interesting & thought provoking.
Oct 11, 2007 Christa rated it it was ok
I don't indulge myself in crime & mystery or romance novels or anything of that sort, but if there happens to be a badly written account of something living overseas - well, watch out, here I come.
I can't help myself. Even as I cringe at the atrocious writing and the writers idiotic reasoning and actions, I can't put these types of books down.
This books is filed with the likes of "Rainbow's End: A Memoir of Childhood, War and an African Farm" and "Beyond the Sky and the Earth: A Journey int
Jan 22, 2016 Philippe rated it really liked it
This book is an account of the life of an anthropologist within a remote african tribe. It is at the same time very funny and also instructive, to see that what we consider as 'normal' and 'universal' is maybe not the case.
The writer is Laura Bohannan; the name of Elenore Smith Bohanan is a 'nom de plume'.
Mar 01, 2014 عبدالله rated it it was ok
قد يكون تقييمي قاسي لأني أمقت الروايات بشكل لا يعلمه إلا الله ولكن الحاجة للتعرف على ثقافة النيجر أحالتني إلى هذا الكتاب

هنا تقوم الكاتبة بسرد روايتها المبنية على رحلة قامت بها في الستينات لدراسة قبيلة نيجيرية تسمى قبيلة التيف وتسرد في الرواية ملاحظاتها وتجربتها الشخصية مع القبيلة من عدة محاور كالدين والاقتصاد والزواج والموت والسحر والمرض

عمومًا، الرواية لا بأس بها
إن كان لديك وقت تنثره على صفحة
Sherelyn Ernst
Jan 04, 2016 Sherelyn Ernst rated it really liked it
This is fascinating reading about the intersection of two cultures. Anyone who has lived in a very foreign culture will enjoy this book. It is a novel in the technical sense of the word, but in essence, it is non-fiction.
Tina Estep
Mar 28, 2013 Tina Estep rated it really liked it
This is an anthropological novel that is based upon one anthropologist’s study and first year in the field with a remote African tribe, the Tiv, and the exploration of witchcraft within the culture. This fictional approach to anthropology, portrays human dimension, recounting an anthropologist’s failures and triumphs in the field, and how she has to adapt to this new environment. Although it is fiction, it relates very well to the challenges that many anthropologists must face and undergo throug ...more
Kris Rafferty
Mar 07, 2011 Ken rated it really liked it
A fictionalized account of an anthropologist's (Laura Bohannon (pen name Elenore Smith Bowen)) time in a remote African village during the first half of the 20th century. Chronicles not only her observations, but how her experiences challenged her own beliefs and ethical system. I found it well written, especially coming from someone who did not intend to be a novelist. Some of the specific issues may seem out of date now, 60+ years later, but the big issues are timeless.
Alexandra Sundarsingh
An interesting addition to the humanity of fieldwork. Well written. I'd read it again.
Jun 15, 2007 Kim rated it liked it
Recommends it for: people interested in rural Africa
Although the book was slow at times, I really enjoyed Bowen's insight to the world of pre-American Africa. Focusing more on concepts than details allowed her to capture the spirit of each individual. I wish that more travelers would follow her example and document their findings in such a fun and concise way.
Feb 13, 2015 Sandy rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography
This book was definitely a labor of love. It has a slow start, in fact I found I did not like the anthropologist's attitude but slowly I found myself seeing the people through her eyes. I was frustrated by her desire to help but not bring change to these people. It was the culture shock without the shots!
Sep 11, 2008 Kauri rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone
Recommended to Kauri by: no one
Shelves: cultural
This book is really fun-you don't have to love anthopology to enjoy this story. It's about a woman who goes to live in the African brush in the 1960's for a year. Plenty of witch doctors and inter-village drama. The writer is fairly honest about what she goes through in this whole experience.
Katie H
Jul 30, 2010 Katie H rated it liked it
Ok, but not great. It's interesting to see how other people live, but sometimes I was really bothered by the author's closeminded-ness and sense of superiority.
Apr 11, 2007 Pat rated it did not like it
i didn't like this book really.
i had to read it for class. it is a good example of fieldwork done by an ethnocentric Europeian in the 20th century.
Jan 31, 2016 Eliza rated it really liked it
Gives an insight on the struggles, obstacles and strange situation you could face as an anthropological fieldworker. I recommend it!
Mar 11, 2013 Lizzie rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2013
I read this for my Cultural Anthropology course and started hating it toward the end.

Like, I didn't care if she died in a bush.
Krista the Krazy Kataloguer
Jan 09, 2008 Krista the Krazy Kataloguer rated it really liked it
I had to read this for an anthropology class. I enjoyed it, but decided I did NOT want to be an anthropologist!
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pre-American Africa 1 15 Oct 11, 2007 02:30PM  
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Laura Bohannan (née Laura Marie Altman Smith), (1922–2002) pen name Elenore Smith Bowen, was an American cultural anthropologist best known for her 1961 article, "Shakespeare in the Bush." Bohannan also wrote two books during the 1960s, Tiv Economy, with her husband, and Return to Laughter, a novel. These works were based on her travels and work in Africa between 1949 and 1953.

(from Wikipedia)
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“These people know the reality and laugh at it. Such laughter has little concern with what is funny. It is often bitter and sometimes a little mad, for it is the laugh under the mask of tragedy, and also the laughter that masks tears. They are the same. It is the laughter of people who value love and friendship and plenty, who have lived with terror and death and hate." - , Return to Laughter (1954)” 2 likes
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