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The Names of Things

3.95  ·  Rating details ·  99 ratings  ·  25 reviews
The anthropologist's wife, an artist, didn't want to follow her husband to the remote desert of northeast Africa to live with camel-herding nomads. But wanting to be with him, she endured the trip, only to fall desperately ill years later with a disease that leaves her husband with more questions than answers. When the anthropologist discovers a deception that shatters his ...more
Paperback, 276 pages
Published April 1st 2012 by Ashland Creek Press (first published March 30th 2012)
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 ·  99 ratings  ·  25 reviews

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K.M. Johnson-Weider
May 10, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I was almost an anthropologist. I majored in the subject in college, drawn to it by my own unusual childhood, which was spent traveling for years among different cultures than that of my birth. The fundamentals of anthropological field work resonated with me: always observing and learning, participating only at arm's length, yet somehow making usefulness out of the loneliness of never quite belonging. I found appealing this idea that somehow there was a special point to a liminal existence, that ...more
Mar 31, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Wood weaves a wonderful tale here. The narrator, having once lived among nomads in Africa with his unwilling wife, returns after his wife has died of an unnamed illness. This current trip is wonderfully and evocatively described, but Wood subtly weaves in how the narrator's journey is more inside than external. He journeys through whether or not his wife may have cheated on him during their last trip, potentially resulting in the unnamed disease, as well as his entire relation to his wife and ...more
John Wood
Apr 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  (Review from the author)
Well, what would I say?
May 01, 2012 rated it really liked it
An anthropologist goes on a pilgrimage across northeast Africa after the death of his wife, coming to terms with her loss and wondering whether he really even knew her at all.

It's interesting that I can't tell you the anthropologist's name, as I don't believe it is ever mentioned in the book. He is simply referred to as "he" and "him", or by the native word "ferenji" used for Westerners. Likewise his wife is simply referred to as "she".

This story is at once very simple, getting to the heart of
Apr 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Excellent book with very evocative images!
Sep 15, 2012 rated it really liked it
When a chance discovery challenges everything an anthropologist understands of his wife's lingering illness and death, he returns to the African plains where her affliction began. The journey is told through objective discourses on Dasse tribal mourning rituals contrasted with a narrative of the anthropologist's own thoughts and experiences.

This book left me thinking of John Banville's The Sea (Man Booker Prize 2005) because of the way the wording and cadence evoke a feeling of place, in this
Aug 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing
The Names of Things by John Colman Wood

This is probably going to be one of the rare books that I read more than once. I do love anthropological studies, but this is much more than that. The author writes about the way he and his wife experience their marriage differently. It is said that when you lose a parent or partner for whom you felt no love, there is still grief, grief for what you wish had been. That is the main story I took away from this book. I found reading it a touching experience -
Mindy Mejia
May 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I had to change my rating from 4 to 5 stars after I finished this book, because it was a moving and haunting journey all the way to the last page. Wood is a truly gifted writer, able to create suspense and wonder out of seemingly quiet prose.
If you are sick of the hollow bestsellers, this is the cure. Beauty and substance to feed the soul.
Apr 13, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: clsc
I have mixed feelings about this book. It was well written but I really wanted to know what happened to the anthropologist. Did he survive, did he walk away, where did his belongings go? Sigh, I guess some things, like the names of things, are just unknowable.
The Names of Things, by John Colman Wood, tells the story of an unnamed anthropologist studying the nomadic Dasse people of the Chalbi Desert. In his field work, he observes the customs and rituals, as well as the normal day-to-day interactions, of the camel-herding Dasse. He is entranced by them, falling easily into their life. He builds a friendship with one of the nomadic men.

“You seized a bit of life, and life damaged you.”

The anthropologist’s wife, an artist, goes with him. She does not
Sep 01, 2012 rated it really liked it
The Names of Things by John Colman Wood is the journey of an anthropologist through the grieving processes he documented among the Northeast African Dasse nomadic camps following the passing of his wife sometime later. Beautifully written in alternating time frames from the anthropologist’s past field work that helped him create two books on the nomadic lives of these people and their grieving rituals and the present when he returns to the African Chalbi Desert to cope with his wife’s passing. ...more
Pam K.
Dec 17, 2012 rated it really liked it
Life, love, death, & betrayal; they are all in the Names Of Things.
The story jumps from a present day journey to memories of an anthropologist. He just lost his wife to disease, and took a trip back to the Dasse clan that he visited years ago. The names of the couple or the disease are never mentioned, which might keep you from connecting with them. But the story itself is interesting and captivating.
Apr 09, 2014 rated it really liked it
It took a good few chapters, but I grew to love this book. It is bucolic, calm, soothing. Very few characters to keep up with and there are few details to allow the reader to feel that they know them, but this adds to the wide-open space feel of the book. The reader must use her/his imagination to appreciate the quiet and stillness. There is a lack of detail to most every aspect of the book, but that helps readers appreciate the nomadic life and begin to feel a part of it.
Amber Berry
Jun 11, 2012 marked it as to-read
I need a category: To Read, Maybe.
The author was at my local bookstore on Sunday night. I even had a reminder email. And I'd planned to be there, but I didn't want to go back out into the night. After reading his bio here, I think it would have been an interesting evening. Still... sometimes the author visits are disappointing.
Apr 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Wood takes us- so vividly- to a place most of us will never see, the Chalbi Desert. He tells a haunting story - a mystery really - that shares the inner and outer landscapes of a man (and a marriage)on a journey to understand the past and the relationships between what we do and don't (can never) know.
May 27, 2015 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Nikki by: Kathy Millar
Shelves: anthropology, africa
This book is slow and beautiful, full of not only narrative anthropology but gorgeous, understated, poignant observations on the nature of humans and relationships, set in a background that makes stark contrast an everpresent tool for reflection. A pleasurable surprise.
Dec 30, 2013 rated it really liked it
This book is not for everyone but if you have been to Egypt it gives additional insight into the culture. Her descriptions are poetic and beautiful. If you like words and their meanings you will enjoy this book.
Aug 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is a beautiful novel about a man's journey through loss and grief. He writes from the perspective of an anthropologist as he revisits the African nomads he studied. It starts slow but builds beautifully.
Apr 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating story and beautifully written
Diene Burenga
Mar 20, 2015 marked it as to-read
referred by Pat
Jan 28, 2014 rated it liked it
Beautifully written. I loved the beginning and ending of this novel. But, ultimately, descriptions of grief, landscape and death rituals were not enough to sustain my interest.
Paul Womack
Aug 08, 2015 rated it really liked it
This is a very good story and filled with information and insight about the work of anthropology and painting, as well as human relationships and spiritual mystery.
Aug 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Loved it. Beautiful story, beautifully written. Lovely imagery.
Susan Gorrie
Oct 07, 2015 rated it liked it
Mixed feelings. Some bits interesting some boring and what happens to him? Unsatisfactory.
Judith Mayer
Sep 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
I like the way the author interwove the story though sometimes his time line was confusing. He writes well; it definitely held my attention. The practices of the nomadic tribe were fascinating.
Carrie Sinosic
rated it it was amazing
Jul 04, 2016
Ru D
rated it it was amazing
Jun 11, 2012
rated it it was ok
Jun 06, 2012
Pamela Cockerill
rated it it was ok
May 13, 2014
rated it liked it
Sep 20, 2012
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John Colman Wood teaches at the University of North Carolina at Asheville. His field research with Gabra nomads of northern Kenya and southern Ethiopia has been funded by the Wenner-Gren Foundation, the National Geographic Society, and the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology.

His fiction has appeared in Anthropology and Humanism, and he has twice won the Ethnographic Fiction Prize of the