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

3.96  ·  Rating Details ·  926 Ratings  ·  43 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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Feb 22, 2008 Bill rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jul 21, 2014 Pamela rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
May 09, 2010 Juliana rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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 -
Jun 10, 2015 Alex rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: spooky
This is probably the first and easily the best ethnographic study done of Haitian vodou to date. Brown writes carefully about her subject and notes, as anyone who tries to look at vodou purely from an academic standpoint will tell you, that the only way to really understand what vodou is and does is to go inside and join the religion, which Brown did.

As someone who found vodou before he found Mama Lola, the book reverberates as a taste of home--the practices detailed are familiar and the lwa wri
Bey Deckard
Finally got my copy back and it's returned to its shelf in my library. This is one of those books I'm forever lending out because I absolutely loved it and I think more people should read it. I first read it in an anthropology class that dealt with magic, religion, and spirituality and it stuck with me.
Apr 14, 2007 Christina rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Packs in a lot of textbook information, without sounding like one. Personal, touching, and more tangible than any other anthropological piece I've read.
Sep 04, 2007 Robyn rated it liked it  ·  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
Oct 18, 2013 Jena rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 it was amazing  ·  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
Apr 03, 2012 Saundra rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: for-classes
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
Oct 27, 2013 Joseph rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 01, 2015 Steven rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: religion
This book was absolutely wonderful, and deepened my understanding of Vodou tremendously. Mama Lola, since the time that the book was written, has become one of the most important Haitian-American spiritual leaders in the diaspora, and this book is a stunning account of her life. My only criticism is that, since this book is first and foremost an ethnography, the author is sometimes a bit too analytical. She has to be, because she is an academic, but too much analysis takes away from the orthopra ...more
Ari Eris
Excellent book. I learned not only a lot about Voodoo but also quite a bit about the struggle of the Haitian immigrant community in 1980s New York. I particularly liked author's personal stories of Aloudes, the priestess who is the subject of the book, and her family. Informative, personal, touching and occasionally funny - a much more accessible scholarly book than most.

If you're new to Haitian Voodoo, try reading Alfred Metraux's Voodoo in Haiti first. Metraux's book is a broad study, whereas
[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
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.
Aug 25, 2009 Lance rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jun 04, 2007 Corbin rated it really liked it  ·  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.
Apr 16, 2008 Ellen rated it really liked it  ·  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.
Sep 11, 2014 Aura rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
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.
Jun 28, 2007 Alexandra rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: justfinished
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.
Steve Wiggins
Apr 13, 2014 Steve Wiggins rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Nov 10, 2009 Kineta rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: vodou
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.
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.
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.
Jan 04, 2011 Monika rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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.
T.Kay Browning
Nov 05, 2016 T.Kay Browning rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The writing was at times too academic and then too ephemeral for me to follow along closely, but that experience of disorientation probably also mirrored the author's own experience well. So many great insights and tough questions, I don't know if cross-cultural anthropology gets much better.
Kaela Schreck
Dec 04, 2014 Kaela Schreck rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: religion
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?!
May 13, 2007 Komal rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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.
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Worth the read? 1 14 Aug 20, 2008 09:06PM  
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