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Mumbo Jumbo

3.79 of 5 stars 3.79  ·  rating details  ·  1,661 ratings  ·  102 reviews
The Classic Freewheeling Look at Race Relations Through the Ages
Mumbo Jumbo is Ishmael Reed's brilliantly satiric deconstruction of Western civilization, a racy and uproarious commentary on our society. In it, Reed, one of our preeminent African-American authors, mixes portraits of historical figures and fictional characters with sound bites on subjects ranging from ragti
Paperback, 224 pages
Published June 11th 1996 by Scribner (first published 1971)
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Infinite Jest by David Foster WallaceSlaughterhouse-Five by Kurt VonnegutGravity's Rainbow by Thomas PynchonIf on a winter's night a traveler by Italo CalvinoWhite Noise by Don DeLillo
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66th out of 451 books — 353 voters
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43rd out of 108 books — 85 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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MJ Nicholls
Reed is the sort of impish satirical crank whose Promethean intellect and restlessly zesty creativity tingles my funnybones, but whose books always leave me yearning for more logic, understanding and clarity. No exception here. This one is your all-out postmodern “metatext,” splicing citations and references and photos from other texts into the body of the main text—a satire about a dancing pandemic called Jes Grew—and despite the presentational panache of the novel, nestling beneath is really a ...more
Nathan "N.R." Gaddis
Dionysian counter=punch to the Apollonian order enjoyed by all Atonists. It swings! To say we have it coming is an understatement. I had it coming, what with after all that faith=in=fiction mumbo jumbo I was jiving upon reading my Mano Mano Mano. Makes no difference what I say. Jes Grew is upon you. You know I’ll tell history different. But that’s cuz I’m a stuff’d shirt. Besides, Osiris is no more dead or alive than Odin and Zeus ; and ancient Egypt still makes for great fiction, and fiction -- ...more
Some great, witty, justifiably angry writing here, and some wonderful use of fragmentation and sampling but somehow it never cohered for me and, at times, I did actually find my interest waning a little, which is not a good sign for such a short book...
Mumbo Jumbo is an innovative novel with it's own original voice, which unfortunately turns rather clunky somewhere in the middle, and doesn't quite recover in the end. The strength of the novel is in its playfulness. There are some good parodic moments, and while the book indulges in some far flights of fancy in developing its conspiracy theories, it knows how to have fun with its own conceits, rather than deliver its material too dryly.

There are certainly messages of social relevance within the
Feb 09, 2013 Chloe rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Chloe by: James Davidson
I'm often leery when friends of mine lend me their favorite books. How soon do you expect me to read this? You know I have a stack of books the size of an end table still to read, right? What if, though this has never before happened in the 25+ years I've been a regular reader, I should lose or damage the book? Most intimidating of all, what if I don't like the read or what if I find it to be so bad that my opinion of you as a friend is changed due to your devotion to these pages? After more tha ...more
Phil Overeem
For various and sundry reasons, it took me over twenty years after finding out about it to read this book. I advise you not to procrastinate as long as I did. Challenging, hilarious, thought-provoking, and still utterly relevant, MUMBO JUMBO leaves you wondering where "Jes' Grew" is growing now, and just how off the tracks our cultural train may be running. If I could find Mr. Reed's contact info, I'd write him; the book will foster loads of questions. If you have read it, I suggest you check ou ...more
Ishmael Reed takes a lot of Pynchonian ideas (massive conspiracy theory, fundamental novelty) and puts a distinct Afro-futurist spin on them, and the result is phenomenal. What makes "Mumbo Jumbo" unique is its remarkable merger of formal experiment (incorporation of visual material, novel typography, freewheeling plot structure) and sheer enjoyment. I've never had more fun demanding the downfall of static white society.
A challenging and jubilatory postmodern (re)vision of the mythical powers that be, MJ is a short but intense ride through the underbelly of the jousting hidden forces shaping history, religion, culture, and race relations, and it all comes to a head in the jazzy arena of 1920's Harlem:
After a first flair-up in 1890's New Orleans, HooDoo/Voodoo forces are once again alive and on the rise as Jes Grew, the 'psychic virus' spreads and infects its carriers with the irresistable urge to jam, dance,
Dusty Myers
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Another one of those life-altering books. Takes two of my favorite things, satire and history, and completely turned it on its head. I don't know what kind of writer I'd be without Ishmael Reed.
Let's talk about "Jes Grew," the mysterious ethos ubiquitous among the dramatis personae in Reed's Mumbo Jumbo. Let's recognize three phases of it, before the press of reforming Christianity in the First Reconstruction; during the period of the minstrel hall performer "blacking up"; and in the variegated cultural historiography of the "recording" era -- essentially, what got down onto disc between 1891 and the height of the record industry boom from which the Satirist narrates his Dunciad -- let ...more
3.75 Stars. I'm not sure if I could give it 4, but it definitely deserves more than 3.

It starts off very confusingly, much like Flight to Canada. There are so many references to history and literature, especially ones that I didn't know super well that it makes it seem like Reed is telling an inside joke. As you get further on in the story you start to realize you're now on the inside and it's no longer confusing. By the time you finish the book you feel good about where you are versus where you
Jun 14, 2010 Llopin rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2010
Quite a wonderful novel; perhaps not perfect, but wildly imaginative and inspiring. Is it complex? Yeah, sure, as far as post-mo goes: there's a crapload of characters, references, occultism, images, playing with tradition, narrative breaks, quotes; at first it's hard to know what goes on, yet as soon as you become more acquainted with the cartoonish characters and their motivations it reads quite engagingly. The whole part about the roots of Jes Grew, in particular, is just excellent, and as a ...more
Cory Thomas
Reed's sweeping neo-hoodoo detective story incorporates history, mythology, folklore, pop culture, politics, & philosophy. The vernacular of the text is both engaging and dizzying. Characters sometimes come off as two-dimensional, but the flatness fits the mythological range of the narrative. A smart, funny book that never takes its reader for granted, but also sometimes gets a little mired in its own language and cleverness, although it thankfully avoids ever becoming precious or trite.
James Garner
Is it possible to have a warm spot in your heart for a book this frustrating? Maybe that is a function of the book's ambition. Mumbo Jumbo aims to tell an alternative history of the 1920s (as well as 40 centuries of history before that), as the Jes' Grew virus spreads across America, inciting victims to all sorts of improper dancing and soulful awakening. Searching for what is attracting the virus are a number of houngan priests and black magicians in NYC, while proper white society is being "pr ...more
Lilith Dorsey

Ordinarily I am not a regular reader of fiction, however this literary classic is most definitely worthy of note. Reed spins a fascinating tale of the enchanting world of Hoodoo and Voodoo. Mumbo Jumbo is the real deal, it takes mystical subject matter and weaves it into a surrealistic novel revolving around Afro-diasporan religion.

Apr 11, 2008 Steve rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Black Muslims, Moors, Root Doctors, Obeah Men
Recommended to Steve by: Legba
Here is the template for Conspiracy Operas like Illuminatus! and Foucault's Pendulum. A fast, funny, poetic read that offers yet another parable for the Way Things Work Behind the Scene. This is the novel that set the pace. The idea of Jes Grew is so convincing that I think I may have been stricken with it. That's all- gone muggin'.
Quite possibly the oddest thing I have ever come across. . .

Just finished this and all I have to say is odd. . .very very odd. But definitely a good book, you just have to stick it out all the way through and it sort of starts to grow on you.
James F
When you read "Black" literature in school, it's always traditional realistic narratives, like Ellison, Baldwin, Walker, Morrison -- Ishmael Reed is more like a Black Vonnegut, writing outrageous satire in an experimental style. Mumbo Jumbo is an allegorical "history" of the Jazz Age and Harlem Renaissance which turns Right-wing Christian conspiracy theories on their head, presenting world history as an "Atonist" (monotheistic) conspiracy against singing, dancing and enjoyment. Though written in ...more
Cymru Roberts
Much of what I've seen regarding Ishmael Reed - both good and bad - seems like the jargon of Atonists commenting on form and wacky syntax rather than word 1 on the content of the story. For the first 150 pages I was willing to forgive it; the book flies at you 1000000 miles per hour, blending sensual experience at will, which, for Atonists (read: White People ((even if they're black)), can make them bemoan a "lack of plot" or "cohesive design." Ha! Still I was willing to forgive because there wa ...more
If only there were a rating lower than 1. This book is one of the most pompous, full-of-itself piles of shit I have ever read, and I can't imagine why anyone would've been proud to publish it. This book gives postmodernism a bad name. I couldn't even get halfway through. I will never willingly read anything by this author ever again. It's the second book of his I've had to read for a class, and it's worst than Flight to Canada. (I couldn't force myself to choke that one down either.) Also, if th ...more
A hoodoo noir tale where the pursuit is all about the manifestation of some internal human quality that exuberates in bursts of frantic song and dance, not unlike an entire streetcorner breaking out in a musical number, this phenomenon of Jes Grew.

An ancient history teases itself from the taffy of prose, speaking from the tongues of appeased loas—nothing is what it seems. History, an artifice! A clever manipulation by the Order of the Wallflower in a last ditch attempt to circumvent the Jes Grew
Wu Ming
WM1: E' il libro pi famoso dello scrittore afro-americano Ishmael Reed, pubblicato negli USA nel 1972, gi arrivato in Italia parecchi anni fa in una traduzione che ne snaturava lo stile e i contenuti.
Mumbo Jumbo un romanzo... "sperimentale"? E' un'elegia della cultura africana in tutte le sue incarnazioni e latitudini, dalla mitologia egizia al voodoo al blues e al dixieland. E' una fiera rivendicazione del ruolo africano - camita e semita - nella storia della cultura occidentale, dall'antichi
This felt like a great short story idea that became over-bloated with extraneous tangents. Reed is clearly a very smart and well-educated author with a lot to say about culture and race, but this reader felt that this book was over zealous in its effort to weave a tapestry of European history with African arts. I will say Mumbo Jumbo was entertaining with a tongue-in cheek self-aware satiric voice, but it didn’t really add much to my worldview, nor did I appreciate it as high art. What annoyed m ...more
This was one of 11 assigned readings for my Freshman Seminar course in college (1981) and the only one I neither understood nor finished. Other selections included Apuleius' "The Golden Ass", Goethe's "Faust", Atwood's "Surfacing" and the Welsh Mabinogion. All I can say is that there was absolutely no way a 19-year-old White boy from small-town Maine was going to get a foothold on this novel. Thirty years later it was still a bit of a challenge but no longer inscrutable.

In essence this is a cult
Alex Hill
alright, first the good. the multimedia format of this book was extremely well done. the images and drawings always added an extra dimension to the plot and themes. and it is obvious by the slew of allusions and historical satire that Reed is extremely clever.

alright, now the bad. my biggest problem with this book was that I felt like it was arguing with itself. Reed sets the primary plot in the jazz era (1920s), chronicling the outbreak of the jes grew contagion in that time, as well as its va
This is the best Ishmael Reed book I've read. It's a detective story full of masonic conspiracy, voodoo culture and buried history. Before you read it, hit up 'Tell My Horse' by Zora Neal Hurston (I think Reed actually recommends it as an introduction to Voodoo culture somewhere in 'airing dirty laundry'). From what I know about it, which admittedly isn't very much, Voodoo culture put a catholic face on African religious traditions and spread via the West Indies into New Orleans and eventually t ...more
Jeffrey W.
"I always wondered why the teachers just threw the knowledge at us when we were in school, why they didn’t care whether we learned it or not. I found that the knowledge which they had made into a cabala, stripped of its terms and the private codes, its slang, you could learn in a few weeks. It didn’t take 4 years, and the 4 years of university were set up so that they could have a process by which they could remove the rebels and the dissidents. By their studies and the ritual of academics the M ...more
Mahana Petersen
My experience within this book was not the most pleasant one. I found it very frustrating, and kept having to reread pages to see if I could figure out what part of Western civilization he was poking fun at. Every time I thought I had a grasp on the novel, it would throw me for a loop! That being said, I'm glad I read it. I know part of my confusion comes from not being fully educated on the historical background of the novel. So perhaps I'll work on that and try again and maybe enjoy it more!
Bob Martin
A short, very interesting but difficult to follow mishmash of characters, modern fables, and political and social commentary. It's the moral battle of conformity versus creative expression. It's a conspiracy going back thousands of years. Outbreaks of jazz, ragtime, and dancing are erupting across the nation in virulent epidemic. The book seems to be one more expression of non-linear jazz. It was an effort to get through this very short book.
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Ishmael Scott Reed is an American poet, essayist, and novelist. A prominent African-American literary figure, Reed is known for his satirical works challenging American political culture, and highlighting political and cultural oppression.

Reed has been described as one of the most controversial writers. While his work has often sought to represent neglected African and African-American perspective
More about Ishmael Reed...
Flight to Canada Yellow Back Radio Broke-Down The Free-Lance Pallbearers Japanese by Spring The Terrible Twos

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“I had no systematic way of learning but proceeded like a quilt maker, a patch of knowledge here a patch there but lovingly knitted. I would hungrily devour the intellectual scraps and leftovers of the learned.” 2 likes
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