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Elliot Fratkin has written an insightful, enjoyable, and very readable book about his fieldwork and life-long friendship with a family of diviners ( laibon ) in northern Kenya. The work is strongly autobiographical, recounting how a young, rebellious American anthropologist in the 1970s found himself conducting dissertation research among Ariaal, a Samburu-related nomadic community of northern Kenya. (African Studies Review)
This autoethnography is entertaining, provocative, and full of enduring truths about what fieldwork entails and offers. He sees his work as both an ethnography of the laibons... and a memoir―a lifelong search for belonging. The book's chapters are divided into revelatory scenes of Fratkin's experiences living among Ariaal. (American Ethnologist)
Elliot dares to use his own research to pose the question: Is there any true objectivity in field research and anthropological inquiry? He dares to depict his own attachments and relationships to this very special community, while also staying true to his research. His insights further the reader’s understanding and appreciation of the culture and of the research process, thus expanding the boundaries of anthropology. Readers from budding anthropologists to aid workers to volunteers will identify with Elliot’s observations, experience, and deep connection to the culture he studied and the people he grew to love. (Kris Holloway, author of Monique and the Mango Rains: Two Years with a Midwife in Mali)
A vivid, engaging account of Elliot Fratkin's apprenticeship into the mysteries of divination and healing by a prominent Samburu laibon. This book succeeds on many levels―as an unparalleled exploration of the secret meanings and methods of divination by laibons; as a window into the experience of extended field research―the insights and challenges, the emotions and relationships; and as a compelling story about our shared humanity, a reminder that people everywhere experience love, loss and life in ways that will seem achingly familiar. (Dorothy L. Hodgson, Rutgers University)
Fratkin’s book, a journal of personal as well as ethnographic exploration, is honest, funny, moving, empathetic, and respectful and, as an account of fieldwork, rings absolutely true. It is a superb introduction to Samburu, especially their prophets, and to the experience of field anthropology. It would make an engaging teaching text for engaged undergraduates and graduate preparation (Richard Waller, Bucknell University)
Elliot Fratkin is professor of anthropology at Smith College.