Monday, September 17, 2012

100 Books in 2012: Book 79 "The Serpent and the Rainbow"

I don't usually read non-fiction, but I stumbled upon this book while doing research for my upcoming NaNo idea (hint: there will be zombis, sort of).  While the first part of Wade Davis's book is written more like a thriller than a research tome, the author's tone shifts dramatically towards the end, and it becomes hard to trust his assessment.

In the 1980s, Davis traveled to Haiti in search of the truth behind the zombi phenomenon.  Two cases in particular interested him and his backers, and Davis tried to ingratiate himself into the vodoun world of rural Haiti.  Sifting through the myths and the falsehoods, Davis eventually determines that zombis are not actually the living dead: they have been poisoned and ceremoniously resurrected.  His friendship with two vodoun clergy leads to a breakthrough in his research, keeping the reader riveted.

Somewhere in the course of his work, however, Davis gets enamored with the idea of cracking the secret societies which are even darker and less known than traditional vodoun: he feels that this will answer all facets of the zombi question.  From that point in the book, he loses some of his scholarly distance, speaking of these "societies of night" in almost fairy-tale esque terms.  It's hard to believe that something that Haitian children are trained to fear at all costs can be as friendly as Davis claims.  Despite his shifted view, the book is, overall, an interesting exploration of the culture in Haiti, not to mention a scientific explanation of the horror genre staple, the zombi.

What's the best work of non-fiction you've ever read?

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