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4.0 out of 5 stars Travels in Brazilian anthropology
This is a good book for those who are interested in travel rather than tourism, in anthropology or Brazil in 1930s. For those not interested in these subjects this book could be very boring. It is a strange mixture, part autobiography of a period in the author's life and part early anthropological travels, but neither of these parts is fully exposed. The autobiography...
Published 8 months ago by Mac McAleer

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3.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant but hard to understand
Levi Strauss is brilliant and can be very funny. His description of the Indian character vis a vis the foreigner is extraordinary. But there are patches which are ver trying and hard to get a grip on. His descriptions of native jewellry and living arrangements are opaque. Here and there, however, are pictures of a dying world which are beautiful and full of regret - hence...
Published 12 months ago by S H London


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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Travels in Brazilian anthropology, 28 April 2014
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Mac McAleer (London UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Tristes Tropiques (Paperback)
This is a good book for those who are interested in travel rather than tourism, in anthropology or Brazil in 1930s. For those not interested in these subjects this book could be very boring. It is a strange mixture, part autobiography of a period in the author's life and part early anthropological travels, but neither of these parts is fully exposed. The autobiography is carefully selective, or perhaps private, and the anthropology is more travelogue than academic. If these are faults, then they are faults which made this a best-seller when it was first published in 1955. Claude Lévi-Strauss's books have a reputation of being hard reads. This is not the case with Tristes Tropiques, a title which is difficult to translate (the first English edition used "A World on the Wane") but, losing the poetry of the title, could be called "The Sadness of the Tropics" or "Alas for the Tropics".

The author describes his education in France and his realisation on becoming a teacher that he would have to repeat the same syllabus year after year. His big break came when he was invited to join the newly created University of São Paulo in 1934. He describes this early adventure and his frequent travels backwards and forwards on the freight ships between France and Brazil. However, the description of the last voyage is an adventure he would have preferred not to have made when he was a part-Jewish Frenchman fleeing Vichy France and the Nazis. These autobiographical stories can be poetic descriptions which on occasion were based on assumptions with which I did not always agree and sometimes they seemed too baroque for my taste. When he describes his later anthropological travels the language is much more scientific and descriptive; the poetry is then in the myths of the Indians he encounters. Close reading of his descriptions of the colonial society of Brazil can also be considered a form of anthropology.

The main part of the book describes a series of visits to ever more remote Indian tribes in Brazil. The journeys are always difficult and the tribes always seem strange to the European. He mentions how you cannot know the culture of a primitive society until it is in contact with civilization, but once contact is made the primitive culture starts to disappear. This was the start of Claude Lévi-Strauss's life work and his development into the world-famous anthropologist.

The inland geography of Brazil is a mystery to me as are the names of the towns and their pronunciations. Thus I often had a problem working out where Claude Lévi-Strauss actually was and where he was going. Lévi-Strauss's journeys do not appear to be pleasant and sometimes seem horrendous. The different climates and the lands seem unforgiving. Even the major towns, from which the expeditions are launched, seem small and remote. His first trip was to the south of São Paulo to Parana state. Here he encountered his first Indians, the remnants of the Ge people, who had at first been persecuted by the settlers, then corralled into reservations and finally ignored. Now they were neither Brazilian nor Indians. Though dressed like Brazilians, ancient modes of life and traditional techniques were re-emerging from their past. From the reservation villages they would disappear into the forest for days or weeks. They grew few crops, relying mainly on hunting, fishing and gathering wild fruits. Then he visits the Caduveo Indians on their reservation along the Paraguay-Brazil border. Here the Indians resemble ragged Brazilian peasants. Attempts to make them more like the colonialists have been abandoned, but they have still lost a lot of their culture. They do speak their own language and have little Portuguese and they have managed to preserve some cultural aspects, particularly their decorative style notable for its use of complexity upon complexity. To the north in central Mato Grosso, he visited the Bororo. They have none of the wretchedness of the Cuduveo. They are naked but decorated by paint and ornamentation. The men are covered in red pigment, including their hair. In their village they arrange their huts in a wide circle and practice complex social and family relations, reflected by the positions of the huts in the circle. Farther north he visited the Nambikwara, who have a low material culture and appear to be survivors from a Stone Age. In the rainy season they clear an area, build temporary shelters and cultivate their crops; in the dry season they split into nomadic hunting bands. Finally, Lévi-Strauss stayed with the Tupi-Kawahib in the Amazon rain forest.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant but hard to understand, 22 Dec 2013
This review is from: Tristes Tropiques (Kindle Edition)
Levi Strauss is brilliant and can be very funny. His description of the Indian character vis a vis the foreigner is extraordinary. But there are patches which are ver trying and hard to get a grip on. His descriptions of native jewellry and living arrangements are opaque. Here and there, however, are pictures of a dying world which are beautiful and full of regret - hence the title.
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Tristes Tropiques by Claude Lévi-Strauss (Paperback - 1 Sep 2011)
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