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Mama Lola: A Vodou Priestess in Brooklyn (Comparative Studies in Religion and Society)
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Mama Lola: A Vodou Priestess in Brooklyn (Comparative Studies in Religion and Society)

3.93 of 5 stars 3.93  ·  rating details  ·  730 ratings  ·  34 reviews
Karen McCarthy Brown's classic book shatters stereotypes of Vodou by offering an intimate portrait of African-based religion in everyday life. She explores the importance of women's religious practices along with related themes of family and of social change. Weaving several of her own voices--analytic, descriptive, and personal--with the voices of her subjects in alternat ...more
Kindle Edition, 447 pages
Published (first published April 2nd 1991)
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Walking between the worlds

Karen McCarthy Brown has penned a masterpiece! Mama Lola, known to family and friends as Alourdes, is a Mambo, an initiated priestess of Voudou who earns a modest living by serving her immigrant countrymen in America as a traditional healer and by conducting Haitian Voudou rites in her Brooklyn home. In 1978, Brown, then a professor of religion at New Jersey's Drew University first encountered Mama Lola while doing an ethnographic survey of the local Haitian population.
This is an extraordinary book. Karen McCarthy Brown spent over a decade getting to know the Haiti-born mambo (or Vodou healer) known in her Brooklyn community as Mama Lola. In this account, she is part anthropologist and part friend. Mama Lola comes off as an utterly real person: temperamental, sometimes unkind, but a woman of great gifts and insight. (Her grown daughter too is "coming up" in the line of family mambos.) Brown also does a good job of conveying what life is like for Haitian emigre ...more
This is a book hard to rate. Some parts of it is quite interesting - on the modern (read 1980s) use of vodou in Haiti and how it transforms and translates to life for Haitian immigrants in New York. That really IS quite interesting. The presentation of Alourdes (Mama Lola) is okay though I might found it a bit too personal, in a way that the book doesn't really warrant.

But what really made me want to hurl the book to the other side of the room from time to time is Karen's personal involvement -
This is a really fascinating look at Vodou. Brown talks about it largely from the perspective of the people she grew to know in the course of writing the book, and from her own perspective as she became involved with the religion herself, rather than as an outsider looking at a little-understood (and much-misunderstood) religion. I'd recommend it to anyone who wants to learn more about Vodou, and to people who want to know more about Haiti, since while the focus is on Haitian immigrants in Brook ...more
Packs in a lot of textbook information, without sounding like one. Personal, touching, and more tangible than any other anthropological piece I've read.
I didn't know anything about Haitian Vodou prior to reading this book (other than common stereotypes from popular culture). A friend of mine is pursuing her doctorate in religion and mentioned this book during a "Bible study" session. (By Bible study, I refer to a group of people from my church who meet once a week to discuss all sorts of spiritual questions, issues, disciplines, etc.--whether or not they derive from a Christian perspective.)

Mama Lola fascinated me. Karen McCarthy Brown weaves
Jul 03, 2007 Ben rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone
This is a really fascinating look at what kind of religion makes sense for people whose lives are extremely different from our own. Brown's sympathetic treatment of Vaudou helped me to understand not only Haitian religion, but also the religious culture of ancient pagan societies; it also gave me a better appreciation of the social functions that the modern global religions serve in our own society.

I wonder, though, whether there isn't some irony in Brown's highly positive treatment of Vaudou. S
Sep 04, 2007 Robyn rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: the chicken soup for the soul crowd
[granted I read this almost 4 years ago!... ;) preface this review with a heavy "As I recall"...]

My blasé attitude toward this book has very little to do with the content. It is, in fact, a very fast and pleasant read... certainly worthy (at least) of a plane ride/summer peruse. Alourdes' (Mama Lola) tale is an important one... and certainly words like "inspirational," "admirable" and "touching" are not undeserved.

At the risk of sounding a tad ornery, I suppose my issue with the book stems from
This book is stunning. Brown's ability to weave herself into the study whilst maintaing and 'Other' status shows much dexterity of theory and experience. She is blunt enough to record the fluctuations which at times endangered her ability to conduct the study she began and the integrity of a 'project' about which her subjects knew. The author's life and circumstances drew her into her subject's world, yet she is prudent enough to refrain from devolving into matters of her own personal spirituali ...more
It thought it was a really interesting read. I doubt I would have picked this book up if it weren't for the class I read it for, but I liked it non-the-less.

Karen McCarthy Brown becomes transformed through her anthropological field work of Haitian Vodou, and it challenged a lot of assumption she had about life. It really made me think about the "truths" that I hold and broadened my perspectives.

It was also pretty eye opening of to the hardships that Haitians and Haitian immigrants faces. Life
Beautiful piece of scholarship. In embracing her subjectivity, McCarthy Brown created a complete work that denied most misconceptions people have about Haitian religion. Of course you would need more literature to do some work on Vodou, but still, Mama Lola should be required reading for anyone studying Afro-Caribbean religion. More than a book about religion, it is a book about humanity.
Steve Wiggins
A great book to get a sympathetic reading on voodoo. For an ethnography it is very easy to read. I recommend this, and offer further thoughts at: Sects and Violence in the Ancient World.
Kaela Schreck
It was interesting to learn more about voodoo and that some aspects aren't as different as we think they are. Also voodoo dolls are not part of the Haitian religion, they are made up by the media...who knew?!
[Name Redacted]
Entertaining, but more of an autobiography than a scholarly work. Brown quickly and easily falls under Alourdes' charismatic sway, yet as an outsider from a Western academic background is incapable of truly understanding the dynamics of Haitian vodou.

She neglects the reality of male vodou practitioners (who are, for their part, possessed by female spirits), the subjective nature of her own analyses, and the limited nature of her experiences with one particular individual's approach to one parti
This is an intriguing ethnography that clearly is written from the ground up. We really see in McCarthy's Brown's analysis of Voudou how "primitive" religions actually make sense and play an important role in people's life. What is amazing to me is how McCarthy Brown was able to embed so many theoretical strands within her narrative, making it a gold mind of methodology and theory for religions scholars without making it difficult or boring.
Vodou is a misunderstood religion - it is peaceful, individualistic, and deeply spiritual, not the demented caricature our society has created for us to believe. I love McCarthy Brown's delicate treatment of Haitians living in Brooklyn, as well as her clear rendering of vodou's most complicated theological features. This is an important book and a great work of ethnography for those who have read little of it.
Jun 04, 2007 Corbin rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: rebecca
When I saw this book on one of my college courses mandatory reading lists I was dreading it. After the first chapter it had me hooked. The book is a terrific research into a religion that I was completely ignorant on. Voodoo to me was what I had seen in all the movies and cartoons, monsters and witch doctors. After reading the book I became very interested in learning more on the Voodoo Gods and Ceremonies.
May 13, 2008 Ellen rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Ellen by: Sarah T
Really interesting ethnography of vodou, which I knew nothing about previously. For you anthropology nerds, there is a funny note in the foreword about how the author was doing fieldwork while the whole post-modern controversy was going. Immediately after its publication, her book was hailed as this great example of post-modernism and she had no idea what they were talking about.
Alysia Seymour
I read this book for one of my anthropology classes in college, then wrote a paper on it. I found this book very intriguing as well as educational. I learned a lot about vodou and the culture behind it. I strongly recommend this book to anyone who wants to broaden their knowledge and learn about a strong woman who faces many struggles, but overcomes them.
i loved reading this book. i love learning about new religions and this was a perfect way to learn abotu one. the author converts to become part of the vodou community and its cool to walk through her process while she writes about it. its as if you, yourself are converting to this religion too.
I was reading a great deal about Voudou at the time, and this added an interesting side story, specifically helping me understand the differences between Voudou as practiced in different parts of the world. A genuinely interesting read.
Its a good book, you should read it.
Excellent overview of Haitian Rada vodou in Brooklyn. Both Alourdes and Karen McCarthy Brown emerge as complex individuals harnassing physical and spiritual resources to solve deep social problems associated with immigration and poverty in America.
The chapters alternate between biographical stories spanning multiple generations of Mama Lola's family and information about the lwa. It's well written and fascinating. Gives a very nice overview of Vodou and Haitian culture.
An example of how the Vodou religion is so entertwined with practioners' lives you can not segregate the two. A religion that brings ancestors back to life via possession and the difficult history of the Haitian people.
This book has disappeared into the same black hole in my house that ate my wedding ring, most of my favorite movies and about a third of the baby's socks. When it reappears, I will give it another go.
Or, everything I ever wanted to know about Vodou and more. This was a fairly fascinating study of modern vodou, and taught me quite a bit about it's religious and cultural context.
I liked this book, but the author is too involved I think. Is this some kind of text book? Is it a memoir? Can it be both?
It was an interesting subject to read about.
A book I read for my American Folklore class that I ended up really liking. I knew very very little about Vodoun and now have a pretty good appreciation for it.
Mama Lola: A Vodou Priestess in Brooklyn Updated and Expanded Edition (Comparative Studies in Religion and Society) by Karen McCarthy Brown (2001)
It's not a new way of telling stories, but new for her discipline. Read quickly, absorb it all at once. and do NOT skip the introduction.
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Worth the read? 1 12 Aug 20, 2008 09:06PM  
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