After more than fifty years of good health, anthropologist Paul Stoller suddenly found himself diagnosed with lymphoma. The only thing more transformative than his fear and dread of cancer was the place it ultimately took him: twenty-five years back in time to his days as an apprentice to a West African sorcerer, Adamu Jenitongo.
Stranger in the Village of the Sick follows Stoller down this unexpected path toward personal discovery, growth, and healing. The stories here are about life in the village of the healthy and the village of the sick, and they highlight differences in how illness is culturally perceived. In America and the West, illness is war; we strive to eradicate it from our bodies and lives. In West Africa, however, illness is an ever-present companion, and sorcerers learn to master illnesses like cancer through a combination of acceptance, pragmatism, and patience.
Stoller provides a view into the ancient practices of sorcery, revealing that as an apprentice he learned to read divining shells, mix potions, and recite incantations. But it wasn't until he got cancer that he realized that sorcery embodied a more profound meaning, one that every person could use: "Sorcery is a body of knowledge and practice that enables one to see things clearly and to walk with confidence on the path of fear."
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Paul Stoller is professor of anthropology at West Chester University of Pennsylvania and the author of eight books, including the award-winning Money Has No Smell: The Africanization of New York City. He lives in Wilmington, Delaware.From Publishers Weekly:
Stoller (Money Has No Smell) was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in 2001. This memoir of his diagnosis, treatment and remission examines what it means to leave the "village of the healthy" and join the "village of the sick," where illness is a continuing condition with no cure. Some 25 years before his diagnosis, Stoller had done field work among the Songhay people of Niger, where he'd apprenticed to their sorcerer/sage, Adamu Jenitongo. After dangerous incidents with competing sorcerers, Stoller returned to America and his academic career, but his cancer brought him back to a re-examination of Adamu's teachings. Sitting in the chemotherapy infusion room, reciting a Songhay invocation, Stoller felt calmer, as if he had "a degree of control over an uncontrollable situation." Illness is but one of life's "points of misfortune," forcing a person to take a new path. The sorcerer, bridging the known world and the chaos of the unknown, can give guidance by invoking the wisdom of the gods "to harmonize the world" so people can see the path more clearly. While Americans use the war metaphor for fighting disease, the Songhay believe "if you learn to live with illness, your being becomes stronger." Although Stoller chose the most aggressive medical treatments available, he also struggled to respect his cancer and use it to develop his understanding of the meaning of his life and work. Even healthy readers will find Stoller's account valuable and his perspective on sorcery-its emphasis on humility, its acceptance of adversity, its vision of a world of forces beyond human control-surprisingly moving. Photos.
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