Mumbo Jumbo
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating

Mumbo Jumbo

3.8 of 5 stars 3.80  ·  rating details  ·  1,414 ratings  ·  95 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...more
Paperback, 224 pages
Published June 11th 1996 by Scribner (first published 1971)
more details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Mumbo Jumbo, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Mumbo Jumbo

Infinite Jest by David Foster WallaceGravity's Rainbow by Thomas PynchonSlaughterhouse Five by Kurt VonnegutThe Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas PynchonIf on a Winter's Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino
Postmodern Genius
55th out of 282 books — 263 voters
Moby-Dick; or, The Whale by Herman MelvilleUlysses by James JoyceA Clockwork Orange by Anthony BurgessDon Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes SaavedraThe Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Rabelais' Codpiece
40th out of 104 books — 55 voters

More lists with this book...

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,671)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details
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...more
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
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,...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.
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...more
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.
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.
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...more
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'anti...more
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...more
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...more
Nov 27, 2011 Mark rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: novels
Wow. I want to read it again. Advice: don't be afraid of it. It's actually rather easy to follow. I was a lazy ass motherfucker when I read it, hardly looked anything up and still got much of it. Looking up stuff later deepens the appreciation, for sure, but isn't necessary for understanding Reed's points, only their deeper implications. This book is also really, really funny like if Spike Lee did cartoons.

Before reading this, I had read Reed's first novel, "The Free Lance Pallbearers", and his...more
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
This book was an interesting exploration of how an cultural epidemic like "Jes Grew" (thinik new form of music, art, literature, dance, or means of expression) is both embraced and despised by races who create it or feel threatened by it. Sometimes, these groups recruit members from both sides to either empower it or destory it, almost like spies within each other's camps. I think reading this along with Ragtime by Doctorow and Jazz by Toni Morrison would make for any interesting trio of novels....more
Seth Johnson
Reed's novel is an outstanding bit of satire. In critiquing the ways in which the white cultural majority suppresses minority art forms, Reed creates a disease that literally makes people dance--except they don't dance in proper, European forms and that makes people nervous.

Reed challenges notions of how we value cultural forms as well as our conceptions of religion, upending the traditional paradigm of monotheism/polytheism. He also contorts the very structure of the novel itself, throwing in...more
This is a wild read, a counter-myth to the dominant story of the superiority of Western civilization as launched by the Greeks and carried on by the Romans, preserved by Christendom and...blah blah blah--you know the story because it has been the ONLY story told in the schools for so many. Along comes Reed to tell the story of "Jes Grew", of the Dionysian joie de vivre that underlies jazz, blues, funk, voodoo, boogie woogie, and all the other erotic manifestations that grew up, as Reed tells the...more
An excellent satire of Eurocentrism by Ishmael Reed, who is, in my opinion, one of the best living American satirists. I'm not as big a fan of some of his recent work, but Mumbo Jumbo is probably his best, and it's a trip to read.

Touching on the Harlem Renaissance, Garveyism, and U.S. relationism with Haiti, Reed makes good use of the 1920s. There are many allusions in this book, so if you don't know a bit about this period, you might feel a bit lost. This is true of most of Reed's work, but eve...more
It took me quite a while to get into any sort of groove with this book. It reads a bit like Pynchon or some other postmodernists, but with a definite emphasis on African American myths, stereotypes, and experience. I still couldn't tell you much in relationship to plot, but the "Jes Grew" epidemic includes dancing, and Egyptians, and Moses, and jazz, etc.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 89 90 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Gogol's Wife and Other Stories
  • The Blood Oranges
  • The Changeling
  • The World Within the Word
  • Falling in Place
  • Man in the Holocene
  • Nog
  • Advertisements for Myself
  • For a New Novel: Essays on Fiction
  • The Coup
  • The Little Disturbances of Man
  • I, etcetera
  • The Rhetoric of Fiction
  • Black Tickets: Stories
  • The Pure and the Impure
  • Gimpel the Fool and Other Stories
  • Chimera
  • Other Inquisitions, 1937-1952
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
More about Ishmael Reed...
Flight to Canada Yellow Back Radio Broke-Down The Free-Lance Pallbearers Japanese by Spring The Terrible Twos

Share This Book

No trivia or quizzes yet. Add some now »

“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.” 1 likes
More quotes…