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Mumbo Jumbo

3.81  ·  Rating details ·  2,858 ratings  ·  186 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 August 1972)
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3.81  · 
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 ·  2,858 ratings  ·  186 reviews

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MJ Nicholls
Jul 12, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: merkins, novels
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
Jun 25, 2013 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
Sep 09, 2012 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
Nov 21, 2013 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...
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.
Aug 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reviewed, 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,
Phil Overeem
Feb 15, 2008 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
Oct 28, 2007 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.
Callum McAllister
Great concept and style but I don’t think I’ve been in the right mood for this kind of book.
May 13, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The writing in here is impressive on a language level, and it is definitely thought provoking at the same time that it's entertaining. I had a bit of an easier time with this one than The Free-Lance Pallbearers. That, of course, doesn't speak to the quality of the work or how interesting it is, just how approachable it was for me. Both books make me intrigued about Ishmael Reed as a writer and I'll definitely pick up something else of his at some point. A very skilled writer with significant thi ...more
Simon Robs
Feb 04, 2016 rated it really liked it
"Time is a pendulum. Not a river. More akin to what goes around comes around." Mumbo Jumbo be our current politic or realpolitik and Jes Grew and it Templars still banging in da streets all over dis land, lordy we gots troubles many don't kid yerselves shit going down. Da pendulum done swung and we swamped like this here book will eat yer lunch and spit it out. Readit and weep. Out ya'll.
John Pistelli
Thomas Pynchon's freewheeling narrator of Gravity's Rainbow (1973) tells us, "Well, and keep in mind where those Masonic Mysteries came from in the first place. (Check out Ishmael Reed. He knows more about it than you will ever find here.)" Similarly, the underground cult classic compendium of conspiracy, Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson's Illuminatus! Trilogy (an important influence on both Alan Moore and Grant Morrison) opens with this epigraph from Ishmael Reed's 1972 novel, Mumbo Jumbo: ...more
Cymru Roberts
Nov 19, 2014 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
Dusty Myers
Mar 17, 2008 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Apr 11, 2008 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'.
E. C. Koch
Jan 11, 2018 rated it liked it
This novel is what critics have in mind when they describe the postmodern text as collage. Mumbo Jumbo combines mystery, history, citation, and photography into a single novel about the conflict between Eastern (Black) and Western (White) Civilization. And that's a huge theme. Reed allows this conflict to manifest itself in multiple ways in the novel, which, for the reader, might come across as a lack of clarity (more on this in a minute). Set in 1920's Renaissance Harlem, the Wallflower Order - ...more
Jan 01, 2013 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
Aug 12, 2016 rated it liked it
I decided to give this three stars based on my own stupidity. Quite frankly, I didn't understand a lot of what was going on in this book. I'm planning on updating my review post book club meeting next week. Maybe my fellow readers can shed some light on Mumbo Jumbo for me.

I had a tough time discerning what was based on historical fact and what was fictional. I thought the book was set in the early 1920s... but there are references to the stock market crash having already taken place. But the boo
Nov 24, 2009 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
Daniel Polansky
Part alternate world fantasy, part meta-critique of the aesthetic values of Western Civilization, Mumbo Jumbo is probably best understood as an evocation, a Working, to use the book’s own vernacular, mockingly(?) supposing itself to herald or call forth a leveling of the white power structure and the birth of a new, multicultural age. This is Crying of Lot 49 meets The Fire Next Time, fascinatingly clever, innovative in a dozen ways. There’s so much great stuff in here that the missteps, in part ...more
Feb 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
A breath-stealing, rip-roaring romp through an alternate-universe 1920s where HooDoo detectives and militant museum-robbers mingle with shady masonic organisations and small-time crooks. Jazz and blues meet mainstream media, and Haitian spirits clash with '20s New York, as the spontaneous, homemade, and utterly infectious spirit of Black American creativity, Jes' Grew, sweeps the land.

Okay, so Ishmael Reed has his problems - he can't write women, for a start - but this book is something special
Jun 01, 2010 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
Peter Landau
Nov 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
What a tasty gumbo MUMBO JUMBO by Ishmael Reed is! It’s so thick I’m tempted to eat it with a fork, but I’m going a use a spoon, so I can get every last drop! It’s chock full of story, images, excepts, news items, memos, letters, history, mystery, myth, all glued together with hoodoo, which is to say magic. It reads like John Dos Passos’ USA TRILOGY, with its kaleidoscopic collage technique, but it’s a lot funkier and funnier. Who says you can’t laugh at white supremacy? This is the history of a ...more
Smiley Yearwood
Sep 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Published in 1972 but set in the 1920s it's one of the best novels of Ismael's 50-year writing career and is written in a free stying jazz style to match the jazz era it brings to life. Photographs, newspaper cuttings, handwritten notes and footnotes all feature throughout. The style is sometimes hard to follow, sometimes frustrating but in the end, it's rewarding and leaves you feeling slightly inebriated. Mumbo Jumbo is a work of slightly absurd and unfettered imagination.
Cory Thomas
Dec 27, 2012 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.
Lilith Dorsey
Aug 19, 2013 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.

Dash Williams
I'm fairly certain that my rating will increase are another reading. It is an ambitious book and I really respect the effort.
Jul 08, 2018 rated it did not like it
Never has a novel been gifted a more appropriate title.

For me, it's like the work of William Burroughs: important, perhaps, but hardly enjoyable.
Sep 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
Great novel! Funny, thought-provoking, and timeless.
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To Be Renamed... ...: August 2019 - Mumbo Jumbo 2 6 Aug 08, 2019 07:03AM  

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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
“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.” 7 likes
“Fear stalks the land. (As usual; so what else is new?)” 3 likes
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