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Mumbo Jumbo

3.80  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,998 Ratings  ·  118 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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MJ Nicholls
Jul 14, 2013 MJ Nicholls rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels, merkins
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
Jul 26, 2014 Jonathan rated it really liked it
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...
Aug 01, 2015 Chloe rated it really liked it
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
Jul 01, 2014 Zadignose rated it liked it
Shelves: 20th-century
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
Phil Overeem
Mar 25, 2008 Phil Overeem rated it it was amazing
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.
Oct 28, 2007 Bill rated it it was amazing
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.
Aug 09, 2012 Andrea rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
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
Mar 19, 2008 Dusty Myers rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Apr 11, 2008 Steve rated it it was amazing
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'.
Jan 31, 2016 Jeff rated it really liked it
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
Dec 20, 2015 Logan rated it really liked it
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 it was amazing
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
Jan 02, 2013 Cory Thomas rated it really liked it
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
Jan 21, 2015 James Garner rated it liked it
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
Jun 27, 2015 Serdar rated it really liked it
To be read while listening to Funkadelic's "Maggot Brain" album, especially "Wars of Armageddon".
Sep 08, 2015 Stephanie rated it liked it
This text was required reading for my Advanced Seminar in American Studies course at the University of Utah.

Set in New York City in the Roaring 20s, "Mumbo Jumbo" explores the effects of Ragtime and Jazz music on the people of the world. The infectious music is referred to as the "Jes Grew plague" - as the popularity of these phenomena just grew and grew! What ensues is a battle between New York's Haitian VooDoo culture, as they work to spread Jes Grew and feed their loas, and the Knights Templ
William Braun
Aug 19, 2015 William Braun rated it it was amazing
I can think of several objections to this book: the flatness of the characters (do we ever care that any of them die?), the penchant for conspiracy theories ("but that's not true," one hears an undergraduate complain), the long winded back story at the climax of the tale ("show, don't tell," another undergraduate protests). But this book is a riot. An utter an complete riot. A verbal machine gun. And there are more truth in Reed's lies than in much realism. For instance: Warren Harding might not ...more
Lilith Dorsey
Aug 19, 2013 Lilith Dorsey rated it really liked it

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.

Dec 02, 2007 Sabira rated it it was amazing
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.
Nelson Maddaloni
May 25, 2015 Nelson Maddaloni rated it it was amazing
This book is a wild, wild trip through history,voodoo, mythology, the Bible, conspiracies, and so much more. Reed is an author I've enjoyed almost every time I've read him and this book stands out as one of my favorites in general. In an attempt to make the book more cinematic the book begins before any of the "credits" or the copyright or anything like that, mixing in music, historical references and revisions. This is certainly one of the more fun "difficult" books that I've read and it's one ...more
James F
Feb 04, 2015 James F rated it really liked it
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
Dec 30, 2014 Cymru Roberts rated it it was amazing
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
Nov 05, 2014 Tasha rated it did not like it
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
M. Milner
Jan 03, 2016 M. Milner rated it really liked it
A wild, vicious satire about jazz-age America, Mumbo Jumbo is a blast, in more ways than one.

Essentially, it follows PaPa LaBas, a sort of priest who's looking for the text of a plague sweeping the country: Jes Grew, which makes people dance and create, a kind of spirit of the Harlem Renaissance, if you will. He's opposed by the Knights Templar, the Wallflower Order, who's slogan is "Lord, if I can't dance, no one will," and various New York heavies who may be gangsters, or immortal and possibl
Will McGee
Jun 16, 2016 Will McGee rated it really liked it
My friend Alex, with whom I share many common interests, recommended this book to me some time ago, and I've just now gotten around to reading it. It isn't terribly long, but there's a lot going on in just over two hundred pages.

On a basic level, several different plot threads weave in and out of each other that might at first seem unrelated. At the center of it all is Jes Grew, a craze (often described as more of an epidemic) sweeping the United States that causes people to dance in the streets
Feb 14, 2013 zxvasdf rated it it was amazing
Shelves: netgalley
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
Dec 29, 2010 Wu Ming rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 22, 2012 Anthony rated it it was ok
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
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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...

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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.” 3 likes
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