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Thursday, April 14, 2005

The Casual Critic — Florinda Donner's Shabono

When parents' encourage their kids to read more, they often talk about how books can take readers into far-off worlds without them ever going anywhere. Shabono by Florinda Donner brings that promise to life (albeit for adults) in a very readable way.

Anthropologist Florinda Donner immerses herself in an indigenous tribe in the rain forest in South America. The comfort and familiarity with which she offers images of daily life with the Yanomama, including the intense rituals of this native civilization, portray a world that most who could find this or any website could never imagine.

Though not a page turner, Shabono still reads well enough to keep you going to the end. At times, Donner takes too much of a "nonjudgemental" tact in her writing. Though appropriate as a scientist, she lost a connection (at least with me) to the average American reader when she refused to question native rituals that seem primitive to more modern nations. Yet, it was very interesting to see their steadfast belief in rituals that amounted to taking drugs, chanting, and dancing to bring about positive results for a sick child, an upcoming raid of another tribe, or even Donner herself.

The relationships Donner developed (and described) was enough for the reader to feel like you truly got to know and care about some members of the tribe. When it was explored, their fascination with Donner was compelling, and challenged my own prejudices about them. She was seen almost as a child, or at least something to be taken care of. In fact, dealing with that realization, and the fact that she had no real pressures in their society, helps her leave what became an existence in which she seemed tempted to stay.

If you're looking to cozy up with a book, look elsewhere. But, Shabono is a mildly challenging read that might be worth reading for those looking for something truly different.

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