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In Sorcery's Shadow: A Memoir of Apprenticeship among the Songhay of Niger Paperback – Feb 15 1989


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 252 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; 1 edition (Feb. 15 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226775437
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226775432
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 1.8 x 22.9 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 363 g
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #633,401 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

The tribal sorcerer is both hunter and hunted in a world of power seekers. The ominous sense of a narrowly oppressive quest for power is captured in this startling field report by an anthropologist who was himself initiated into African sorcery. Stoller made five field trips to study the Songhay, proud, fierce subsistence farmers of Niger. Becoming an apprentice, then a practitioner of the black arts, he took part in one ritual attack that, he claims, paralyzed the face of the intended victim's sister. After hostile sorcerers' spells temporarily paralyzed the author's legs, he began carrying around protective charms. On his last field trip, he was joined by his coauthor wife, a sociologist; she adds a measure of objectivity to this firsthand account. Although the narrative unfolds slowly and doesn't measure up as the metaphysical adventure it might have been, it is nevertheless a responsible attempt to pierce a hidden realm.
Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

In the last decade, anthropologists have allowed personal concerns to become an acknowledged part of their ethnographic work. In this vein, Stoller "learned much about Songhay sorcery as an initiated apprentice," and consequently his book is more "memoir" than standard ethnography. Still, the account contains incisive information about fieldwork in Niger and about Songhay sorcerythe incantations, power attributed to plants, antagonisms between sorcerers, and details of daily life that both he and, later, Olkes collected. A good presentation of many of the ethical dilemmas anthropologists face when doing fieldwork for informed laypersons and specialists. Schneebaum's book is again more autobiography than ethnography, but in contrast to Stoller's, it contains sketchy ethnographic information. Though Schneebaum incessantly interviewed the Asmat during his four years in New Guinea, little of that information is conveyed. The book is more a search for identity: Schneebaum knew the Asmat as no other ethnographer has (or would admit to); as "an exchange friend" he developed intimate bonds with male friends. The lack of detailed cultural information is therefore the more regrettable. The book does, however, give us clear descriptions of Schneebaum's anthropological encounter and subsequent personal questions. Winifred Lambrecht, Brown Univ., Providence, R.I.
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Format: Paperback
In this book, Paul Stoller, an ambitious graduate student, tries to make sense of social life of Songhay-speaking people in the eastern Niger. The Songhay have once possessed the largest empire in African history; their formidable magician-king Sunni Ali created an elaborate and effective administrative system extending all the way up to Timbuktu and even Morrocco and, as Stoller shows in this book, Sunni Ali's memory is still very much alive in contemporary Niger.
The book follows Stoller as he wanders around Songhay villages trying to document social mores. He quickly finds what M. Mead never did - that polling and questionnaire techniques he was taught in the US do not work with the Songhay. In Niger, a direct question typically elicits an outright lie; effective field work consists of listening and participating whereas direct interrogation is counter-productive. Stoller then falls into the hands of a local "sorko", or magician-healer, who offers to teach him the secrets of the trade. At this point, the author is faced with the question: should one maintain, in bona fide anthropological work, classical aims of "objectivity" and "impartiality" or should one immerse oneself totally and completely into indigenous life, risking drowning into it and being forever lost to science? Stoller does neither: he is awed by the power and mystery of the secrets that he is witnessing yet at the same time he seems to be unable to comprehend the most elementary laws of indigenous shamanic practices. Thus, like the proverbial deer facing headlights of a car, Stoller is is constantly paralyzed by incomprehension and fear.
For me, the book provides more evidence for the hypothesis that the "Western paradigm" is just one of many, and not that empowering at that.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 12 reviews
23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
neither anthropology nor shamanism Sept. 18 2003
By kaioatey - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
In this book, Paul Stoller, an ambitious graduate student, tries to make sense of social life of Songhay-speaking people in the eastern Niger. The Songhay have once possessed the largest empire in African history; their formidable magician-king Sunni Ali created an elaborate and effective administrative system extending all the way up to Timbuktu and even Morrocco and, as Stoller shows in this book, Sunni Ali's memory is still very much alive in contemporary Niger.
The book follows Stoller as he wanders around Songhay villages trying to document social mores. He quickly finds what M. Mead never did - that polling and questionnaire techniques he was taught in the US do not work with the Songhay. In Niger, a direct question typically elicits an outright lie; effective field work consists of listening and participating whereas direct interrogation is counter-productive. Stoller then falls into the hands of a local "sorko", or magician-healer, who offers to teach him the secrets of the trade. At this point, the author is faced with the question: should one maintain, in bona fide anthropological work, classical aims of "objectivity" and "impartiality" or should one immerse oneself totally and completely into indigenous life, risking drowning into it and 'compromising' science? Stoller does neither: he is awed by the power and mystery of the secrets that he is witnessing yet at the same time he has difficulty operating them. As, I imagine, would you and me, faced with the harsh reality of indigenous 'sorcery'.

For me, the book provides more evidence for the hypothesis that the "Western paradigm" is just one of many, and not that empowering at that. If we start to tinker with our paradigm by "apprenticing" to cultures based on hard, merciless and pragmatic obsession with spiritual power (such as the Songhay) we are in for a tough ride. Stoller was; he distanced himself and I do not blame him.

The book is a great read. I found it difficult to put down. The dialogues in this book are great and often funny and the book is a must read for anyone contemplating visiting Niger, Mali or Burkina Faso. I wish there was a sequel.
More like a thriller than an ethnography March 14 2015
By Scott Tuttle - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
As a former Peace Corps volunteer in Niger, I had many unanswered questions about the Songhay's pre-Islamic beliefs by the time I got home. A lot of what I saw over there really makes more sense now that I've read this book (particularly what supposedly happens during possession dances and what their purpose is). Stoller does a great job turning the information into a narrative with dialogue and character development that really grabs the reader's attention and sustains it, making it read more like a thriller than an ethnography (which is not a bad thing as ethnographies can be very dry). Thus, you don't have to be an anthropologist to enjoy this book. My bias might be that I lived among Songhay for two years and appreciated many of his references in a way someone else might overlook.

My only gripe is that he seems to focus his effort so much in making the book enjoyable that he neglects a lot of the raw information I was looking for when I purchased this book. Fortunately, Stoller also wrote many other books on the Songhay which I thought did a much better job at explaining the whats and the whys, particularly in the history and origins of traditional "animism."
I loved this book Oct. 10 2014
By Marcy - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I loved this book. I had to get it for an anthropology class and I thought it would be boring. I couldn't put it down. Great book.
Gaining Perspective Aug. 24 2014
By William J. Siems - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
We are preparing for a short term medical mission to Niger. This helped me gain an additional perspective.
sweet March 18 2015
By Steven Loaiza - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Great book! Amazing novel and story


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