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Mama Lola: A Vodou Priestess in Brooklyn (Comparative Studies in Religion & Society) Paperback – 22 Nov 2001

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Product details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; Updated and expanded ed edition (22 Nov. 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520224752
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520224759
  • Product Dimensions: 22.8 x 15.2 x 2.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,517,974 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description


"I know of no other work about Vodou that can teach the uninitiated so fully what it means to know: how unassuming, contingent and matter-of-fact real konesans (understanding) must be." - Joan Dayan, Women's Review of Books "This volume is superb: a poignant account of a Haitian migrant to New York and how she appropriates and reworks her family knowledge of healing and ritual.... Gently informed by her own life and by women's anthropology, Brown offers a sympathetic and vivid portrait of the lives of a group of women." - Roland Littlewood, Political and Social Science "Novelistic chapters, beautifully written, are alternated with a narrative of the present, including descriptions of the members of the Vodou pantheon and how Alourdes serves them.... She has written a life story that is full of feeling." - Constance Casey, Los Angeles Times "Brown's ethnographic short stories vividly capture the complicated personal history that is summed up in Mama Lola's full name and they also dramatize the larger social processes at work in Haiti's recent history.... Mama Lola provides an engaging, detailed, and sympathetic account of the world of Haitian Vodou. Brown has used a variety of interesting, and even daring, techniques to make that world come alive." - Eugene V. Gallagher, Journal of the American Academy of Religion

About the Author

Karen McCarthy Brown is Professor of Anthropology of Religion at The Caspersen School of Graduate Studies and The Theological School of Drew University.

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Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on 12 Nov. 1997
Format: Hardcover
This book does give a good feel for the emotions and personal aspects of Voodoo/Vodun. If you are out to learn about the secrets and mysteries of the religion, you will be dissappointed. This book describes the lives of people who practise the religion. After reading this book you will have a feel for one woman's difficult life. It has a more biographical than how-to quality about voodoo. If you are interested in Haiti, Voodoo/Vodun or santeria it is a must read.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 4.6 out of 5 stars 26 reviews
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant and compelling account of "walkers between the worlds" 29 July 2007
By William Courson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Walking between the worlds

Karen McCarthy Brown has penned a masterpiece! Mama Lola, known to family and friends as Alourdes, is a Mambo, an initiated priestess of Voudou who earns a modest living by serving her immigrant countrymen in America as a traditional healer and by conducting Haitian Voudou rites in her Brooklyn home. In 1978, Brown, then a professor of religion at New Jersey's Drew University first encountered Mama Lola while doing an ethnographic survey of the local Haitian population. Intrigued by the priestess and her misunderstood and maligned tradition, Brown became at first a friend, then a member of Mama Lola's extended family and finally an enthusiastic participant in many of the rites that comprise the corpus of Voudoun devotional life.

Mama Lola, her daughter Maggie, their children and their ancestors, and the 'Lwa' (spirits) who frequently 'possess' them are an engaging, wonderfully diverse crowd: deeply spiritual, profoundly thoughtful and often humorous characters marvelously skilled in surviving conditions of extreme deprivation and oppression and in adapting to the conditions of life (or, afterlife) in the strange world of urban America.

By the time I had completed this delightful book, I felt myself deeply involved in Mama Lola's life and that of her extended family. Brown's writing is textured and a pleasure to read. The author goes far out on a limb, leaving her observer role and social scientist expertise and becomes an initiate into the religion, wedding the 'etic' of academia to the 'emic' of an ecstatic, profoundly sensual, Earth-centered religiosity.

The arrangement of the text adds to its readability, with odd chapters offering stories about Mama Lola's family and heritage and even chapters devoted to the pantheon of lwa (spirits) of the Voudou tradition. A glossary of Voudou terms has been added, which is indispensible to readers new to the subject.

Students and scholars of Haiti, the African Diaspora and African religious traditions will enjoy and benefit from this work immensely. I recommend it as well to the general public for a most worthwhile reading adventure.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars You can't help but love this family! 5 Oct. 2004
By Dynomoose - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Not really a book on Hatian Vodou. Mama Lola is more a family history and a description of what serving the spirits means to them.

Dr. Brown makes this amazing woman and her family come alive on the page.

Alourdes is all at once a devout woman, devoted mother, petulent and powerful woman. Her family is at once inspiring and beverage out your nose funny.

By the end of this edition, I found myself not only falling in love with Alourdes family, but with the spirits they so loyally serve.

A terrfic book if you want to understand what Vodou means to it's followers, what life is like for immigrant women and the pride and strength that comes from growing up in the poorest country in the Western hemisphere.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable, informative, well-written 7 Sept. 2003
By Elizabeth - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I read this book for a class, but found it very easy and enjoyable to do so. For many assigned books I have to force myself through them and not so at all with this one. Certainly, it is not meant to give a comprehensive look at Vodou and it doesn't do that. What it does do, though, is give someone with little or no knowledge of the religion a full and rich picture of the tradition. I very much appreciated the author's stance throughout the book that the spirits and the experiences of those in the book (eventually, including her own) were real. There was no questioning about whether the spirits "really" existed, but just the assumption that this was the reality for practioners of Vodou. One danger with ethnographic work is that the ethnographer is condescending when talking about those with whom she is working or studying, and this wasn't the case in the book. She seemed to view Alourdes and her family as equals and as friends.
Overall, I found the book interesting, not difficult to read (as is the case with many "academic" books), enjoyable and informative. It seems like it would be a suitable book for those interested in religion, vodou in particular, anthropology, ethnographic study, or those interested in Haiti.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars At least the ethnographer is honest about herself! 8 Aug. 2002
By A reader - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
In most ethnographies, the reader must dig around to find out about the writer. In this book, McCarthy Brown is true to herself and says who she is--an outsider, drawn to the power and community of these Haitian immigrants. If anthropology is the study of human cultures and communities, this author provides us with an honest attempt to understand another's life with all the mysteries and ambiguities intact.
Mama Lola, as she serves her spirits and makes good luck for her spiritual godchildren, embodies the history of Haitian women and their creative mastery of many worlds within the New World. All the stories that Mama Lola relates "follow a line from mother to daughter" and emphasize the role of the matrilineal connections between Alourdes and her descendants (p. 16). The matriarch serves a special role in preserving the extended "family" of vodou practitioners.
In Karen McCarthy Brown's ethnography, Mama Lola is the center of a complex web of relationships connecting West Africa to Haiti to Brooklyn to other points extending even farther. The reader discovers the rural world of Haiti and the urban world of New York City through an alternation of personal narratives, interviews, and imaginative fictional interludes about the ancestors and the spirits.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating portrait of a strong, vibrant Vodou priestess 30 May 1999
By Marisa B. Young (crimson3@earthlink.net) - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I found this to be one of the most fascinating books I've ever read, on any subject! The author's relationship with Mama Lola is the heart of this moving portrait of the Haitian immigrant community in Brooklyn. This book should be required reading for the scores of folks still harboring negative stereotypes of Vodou (please, people, forget all that sensationalistic Hollywood garbage!); it will take its place besides Luisah Teish's works as the definitive portraits of Vodou as a strong, empowering force for women. Brown herself was initiated into the Vodou community while on a trip to Haiti with Mama Lola and her family in 1981; her life has never been the same! Yours won't either, after reading this wonderful book. Required reading for all serious students of comparative religion and women's studies!
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