SONG FROM THE FOREST by Louis Sarno

SONG FROM THE FOREST

My Life Among the Ba-BenjellÇ Pygmies
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 Sarno, an American, heads for the rain forest of the Central African Republic. Once there, he not only finds love but--with typical Western hubris--saves the Pygmies from themselves and from the modern world. With a one-way ticket and his recording equipment, Sarno, inspired by Colin Turnbull's The Forest People, goes to Africa to record the music of the Pygmies. His first encounter with the little-known Ba-BenjellÇ Pygmies, who live on the edge of the forests, is disappointing: Though they dance and sing for him, they seem to have become idle scroungers who while away their days smoking marijuana and drinking. Sarno soon despairs, but when he accompanies some Pygmies into the forest on a hunting trip, he also sees how living even temporarily in their traditional habitat can transform them. The Pygmies immediately become healthier, more energetic, and more resourceful as they practice their old crafts and food-gathering habits. Their music improves as well, as they sing of the forest, invoking the great spirits that lurk there. Encouraged, Sarno returns to the West, where his recordings are well received, but he is soon back, contracts for more music in hand and determined to spend his life with the Pygmies--a decision greatly affected by his falling in love with a young Pygmy girl, Ngbali, 18-20 years his junior. This romance comes to obsess Sarno as Ngbali, while agreeing to marry him, constantly avoids him. Meanwhile, away from the forest, the Pygmies resume their self- destructive behavior in the village, which has become a noisome cesspool. Many sicken and die, and Sarno persuades them to move closer to the forest, where they establish a more traditional and healthier community. There, Ngbali finally marries the author. Sarno, despite his genuine affection for the Pygmies, is a puzzling figure who unintentionally reveals more about himself than about the Pygmies, whom he seems to see through all-too-Western eyes.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-395-61331-0
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 1992