Take a journey to Ixtlan—by way of Swaziland—in this verbose, self-conscious narrative by the only white man to have ever become a sangoma, a traditional African healer. A former television writer and co-author of Makeba: My Story (not reviewed), Hall spent two years learning how to summon his lidlotis, the spirits of the dead who emerge to possess his body during nightly rituals. As a sangoma-in-training, Hall accumulates eight spirits, including those of a distantly related Scotsman, an American Indian, a fetus (who encourages him to have his own child), and a most incongruous 1930s ad man named Harry, who conversationally tells Hall it was he who thought of the slogan ``Lucky Strike Means Fine Tobacco.'' Under the tutelage of senior sangomas, Hall digs for medicinal roots; reads animal bones to diagnose physical and spiritual ailments of his patients; bathes in goat blood; and divines the location of hidden objects before admiring tribespeople. Yet all is not rosy, since Hall faces grudging acceptance by the community and is perpetually plagued by foot infections arising from nocturnal barefoot dancing while under the thrall of his lidlotis. A self-described former ``casual'' Catholic, Hall continually confronts his own doubts about the legitimacy of his experiences. Is he schizophrenic, he wonders? Would anyone back home in the States believe him? Is he worthy of being a sangoma? After easily resolving these questions through a fairly insignificant encounter with a colorful troubadour, Hall undergoes his final ritual tests (which include a vomiting contest) and becomes a full-fledged traditional healer. Hall's prose drips with hackneyed phrases such as ``muscular mountains'' and ``ineffable sadness,'' and while he faithfully describes his ritual training, the details can become wearying, particularly the daily digging and grinding of sacred herbs. Readers curious about this vanishing tribal practice may find Hall's book informative, as will glossolaliacs who will appreciate his lidlotis utterances. (8 pages of b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Oct. 19, 1994

ISBN: 0-87477-780-1

Page Count: 272

Publisher: TarcherPerigee

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1994

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A standout immigrant coming-of-age story.



In her first nonfiction book, novelist Grande (Dancing with Butterflies, 2009, etc.) delves into her family’s cycle of separation and reunification.

Raised in poverty so severe that spaghetti reminded her of the tapeworms endemic to children in her Mexican hometown, the author is her family’s only college graduate and writer, whose honors include an American Book Award and International Latino Book Award. Though she was too young to remember her father when he entered the United States illegally seeking money to improve life for his family, she idolized him from afar. However, she also blamed him for taking away her mother after he sent for her when the author was not yet 5 years old. Though she emulated her sister, she ultimately answered to herself, and both siblings constantly sought affirmation of their parents’ love, whether they were present or not. When one caused disappointment, the siblings focused their hopes on the other. These contradictions prove to be the narrator’s hallmarks, as she consistently displays a fierce willingness to ask tough questions, accept startling answers, and candidly render emotional and physical violence. Even as a girl, Grande understood the redemptive power of language to define—in the U.S., her name’s literal translation, “big queen,” led to ridicule from other children—and to complicate. In spelling class, when a teacher used the sentence “my mamá loves me” (mi mamá me ama), Grande decided to “rearrange the words so that they formed a question: ¿Me ama mi mamá? Does my mama love me?”

A standout immigrant coming-of-age story.

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4516-6177-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: June 12, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2012

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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.



Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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