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Mondays on the Dark Night of the Moon: Himalayan Foothill Folktales Oxford University Press USA Kirin Narayan

24th March 2013 Literature & Fiction 23 Comments

Oral tales establish relationships between storytellers and their listeners. Yet most printed collections of folktales contain only stories, stripped of the human contexts in which they are told. If storytellers are mentioned at all, they are rarely consulted about what meanings they see in their tales. In this innovative book, Indian-American anthropologist Kirin Narayan reproduces twenty-one folktales narrated in a mountain dialect by a middle-aged Indian village woman, Urmila Devi Sood, or “Urmilaji.” The tales are set within the larger story of Kirin Narayan’s research in the Himalayan foothill region of Kangra, and of her growing friendship with Urmilaji Sood. In turn, Urmilaji Sood supplements her tales with interpretations of the wisdom that she discerns in their plots. At a moment when the mass-media is flooding through rural India, Urmilaji Sood asserts the value of her tales which have been told and retold across generations. As she says, “Television can’t teach you these things.”
These tales serve as both moral instruction and as beguiling entertainment. The first set of tales, focussing on women’s domestic rituals, lays out guidelines for female devotion and virtue. Here are tales of a pious washerwoman who brings the dead to life, a female weevil observing fasts for a better rebirth, a barren woman who adopts a frog and lights ritual oil lamps, and a queen who remains with her husband through twelve arduous years of affliction. The women performing these rituals and listening to the accompanying stories are thought to bring good fortune to their marriages, and long life to their relatives. The second set of tales, associated with passing the time around the fire through long winter nights, are magical adventure tales. Urmilaji Sood tells of a matchmaker who marries a princess off to a lion, God splitting a boy claimed by two families into two selves, a prince’s journey to the land of the demons, and a girl transformed into a bird by her stepmother.
In an increasingly interconnected world, anthropologists’ authority to depict and theorize about distant people’s lives is under fire. Kirin Narayan seeks solutions to this crisis in anthropology by locating the exchange of knowledge in a respectful, affectionate collaboration. Through the medium of oral narratives, Urmilaji Sood describes her own life and lives around her, and through the medium of ethnography Kirin Narayan shows how broader conclusions emerge from specific, spirited interactions. Set evocatively amid the changing seasons in a Himalayan foothill village, this pathbreaking book draws a moving portrait of an accomplished woman storyteller. Mondays on the Dark Night of the Moon offers a window into the joys and sorrows of women’s changing lives in rural India, and reveals the significance of oral storytelling in nurturing human ties.

Narayan (anthropology and South Asian studies, Univ. of Wisconsin; Love, Stars and All That, LJ 9/15/93) has produced a unique volume of folktales from a village in the foothills of the Himalayas. The collection functions on several levels. First, the 21 stories told by Sood (“Urmilaji”) are divided into women’s ritual tales and winter tales, including narratives of a dog-girl and a princess who marries a lion. Second, within and around each tale are comments from Urmilaji and her family as well as explanations of local customs and mores. Third, the author’s scholarly and personal journey during her work with Urmilaji informs the whole. It tells of the growing affection between the two women and establishes Narayan’s theme that “stories arise out of relationships, they are about relationships, and they forge relationships.” An excellent work; recommended for all folktale collections.?Katherine K. Koenig, Ellis Sch., Greensburg, Pa.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.

“A unique volume….The author’s scholarly and personal journey during her work with Urmilaji informs the whole….An excellent work; recommended for all folktale collections.”–Library Journal

“The translations are accomplished and the tales captivating….Part folktale study, part ethnography, part personal narrative, it is wholeheartedly an attempt to collaborate with the tale-teller. It is a pioneering and important book, which takes a firm stand in ongoing debates about the ethics of ethnography and the location of meaning in performed culture.”–Stuart Blackburn, The Journal of Asian Studies

“Teachers of Indian Studies in grades 11 through undergraduate will do well to look closely at this book. It offers accessible riches for the curious, peer-oriented student as well as for more academic readers….Courses or units on cross-cultural studies of women will find this work rewarding….an excellent text for folklore and gender studies courses.”–Education About Asia –This text refers to the Paperback edition.

“A unique volume….The author’s scholarly and personal journey during her work with Urmilaji informs the whole….An excellent work; recommended for all folktale collections.”–Library Journal

“The translations are accomplished and the tales captivating….Part folktale study, part ethnography, part personal narrative, it is wholeheartedly an attempt to collaborate with the tale-teller. It is a pioneering and important book, which takes a firm stand in ongoing debates about the ethics of ethnography and the location of meaning in performed culture.”–Stuart Blackburn, The Journal of Asian Studies

“Teachers of Indian Studies in grades 11 through undergraduate will do well to look closely at this book. It offers accessible riches for the curious, peer-oriented student as well as for more academic readers….Courses or units on cross-cultural studies of women will find this work rewarding….an excellent text for folklore and gender studies courses.”–Education About Asia –This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Mondays on the Dark Night of the Moon: Himalayan Foothill Folktales

  • 23 responses to "Mondays on the Dark Night of the Moon: Himalayan Foothill Folktales Oxford University Press USA Kirin Narayan"

  • Still Here
    6:20 on March 24th, 2013
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    Almost everyone I know who has read this book agrees that it is a very well-written, as the author uses a plain, easy-to-read and understand style. This is a break with the usual, post-modern jargon that is common among anthropologists today. By the way, Bourgois is NOT a sociologist. He is an anthropologist. Sociologists typically do not engage in five years of participant observation among their informants, but prefer instead to rely on quantitative data. Philippe Bourgois is a medical anthropologist at UC-San Francisco.

    A lot of those who have reviewed this book do not understand Bourgois’s main argument. He is arguing that answers to society’s most pressing issues are a lot more than mere blame-the-system or blame-the-victim approaches. It is far too common for liberals and conservatives, respectively, to blame society or to blame pathological, flawed individuals for social problems. As Bourgois shows in this book, the truth is often a combination of the two. Even his informants admit that they blame no one else but themselves for the situations they are in.

    Because Bourgois holds both individuals and larger social structures responsible for the epidemic drug crisis in America, he is bound to piss off both the left and the right with this book. Liberals will claim he is blaming the victim, portraying inner-city people as fundamentally flawed, and tarnishing the image of people living in poverty. Conservatives, on the other hand, will do a complete 180 – and claim that the author is making excuses for criminal behavior, drug abuse, and other social ills. Both the left and the right will accuse Bourgois of glorifying drug abuse and crime – which I strongly DO NOT believe he is doing. He presents his informants in THEIR OWN WORDS — which is exactly what a good anthropologist SHOULD DO in their writings. If you think Bourgois is glorifying drug abuse, crime, or gang rapes, then you’ve obviously not been reading his analysis that opens and concludes each chapter.

    Personally, I feel that the averse, kneejerk reactions that people get when reading this book ultimately reveals much more about the reader themselves than about the book. In Search of Respect is one of my favorite ethnographies, if for nothing else, for the fact that the author has written it in a fashion than even non-anthropologists can understand.

  • kjofgg
    7:59 on March 24th, 2013
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    This is a lovely and evocative book. The author brings us stories as an intimate of the women who tell them. Illuminating and graceful, the stories tell of life in a large sense, but the author shows us how their tellings grow out of particular lives and specific settings. As I read the stories, I felt that I came to know Urmilaji, too, and the hardships and pleasures of the Himalyan village in which she lives. I use this book often in teaching and my students love it. It helps them understand India in a subtle and pleasing way, and shows them how stories are rich with many meanings.

  • Simon Duffy
    12:28 on March 24th, 2013
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    This book is not meant to be objective or positivist in any way. In that respect, Bourgois wrote an incisive, true to life account of life in East Harlem during the beginnings of the crack epidemic. Criticizing the author for not being objective misses the point–this is meant to be an ethnography that does not attempt to eliminate personal influence, but to account for it and analyze its meaning. If Bourgois were trying at all to be objective, he would not have included his own conversation in the book.

  • Vavvvv
    13:44 on March 24th, 2013
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    The condition was not as good as I expected, but it’s usable and cheaper than my university bookstore.
    Some highlighting in the book.
    Overall good.

  • David Smidev
    14:34 on March 24th, 2013
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    I loved this book. Bourgois does a great job describing the causes and consequences of crime in the inner-city. He dispells the many myths that people have about drug dealers and addicts. And, he effectively combines first hand experience with sociological theory to explain and describe inner-city life. It is a great book for both personal reading or for use in a college course on crime.

  • gtbka
    19:22 on March 24th, 2013
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    This was one of the books I had to read for my anthropology class, everyone in my class loved this book.
    This is one of the best books I have ever read, and it is by far the best ethnography ever written. Bourgois explains Puerto Rican culture in the context of American life. He helps us to understand why there is such disparity in (New York) one of the richest cities in the world. Bourgois examines the American Dream and the idea of apartheid in New York City between the rich, educated Manhattan populace and the illiterate Puerto Ricans living in El Bario; quit possibly the poorest region in America. Respect is one of the central themes in this ethnography for it is essentially what all human beings desire. However, the Puerto Ricans of El Bario struggle to find respect amongst the high-powered industries of Manhattan and are in a way forced to incorporate a culture of crime and male-dominance into their lives.
    Bourgois is an excellent anthropologist who isn’t afraid to include his own experiences and opinions on living amongst crack dealers and prostitutes in his ethnographic research. By including his own reactions to this unfamiliar world, he adds a more human touch to the study of anthropology.

  • James T. Allen
    22:24 on March 24th, 2013
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    I thought this book was fantastic. It’s an excellent study of what kinds of terrible things are done by people who, in other environments, might have been normal, law-abiding citizens. And this, of course, has very interesting implications for the study of human development, human behavior in wartime, crime, and other complex subjects. I applaud the author for creating a place for himself within these people’s lives and for being able to deal so clearly and objectively with the massive amount of pain and torment going on around him.

  • Terry Omoto
    23:28 on March 24th, 2013
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    I had to purchase this book for a Personality & Culture Anthropology class. It is interesting and well-written. I thought the author made a lot of excuses for the people in the book who are drug dealers and addicts. He brushed off things like gang rape and laughed at jokes that were not at all funny. I think the author had a secret desire to be one of these guys, and used being a sociologist as an acceptable way to live vicariously through these men. The book mostly focused on men, few women were looked at in depth. I would have been more interested in the lives of the women. If you are looking for a book on drug addiction in New York City among Male Puerto Rican’s, this is “THE” book on that topic, particularly. This book is written from a sociological perspective. I would recommend it and it is a good book, but I think the author was too easy on these guys. Taking all barriers into consideration, language barriers, poverty, lack of education, etc., I still don’t think that is an excuse for gang rape. There were points throughout the book where I felt the author really wimped out on being totally objective.

  • Jackline Mwathe
    0:43 on March 25th, 2013
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    The author, an anthropologist specializing in Latin American culture, studied a poor and suffering Puerto Rican neighborhood in New York city for five years, living in it with his wife and infant for three, in order to write this book. For that alone he deserves our respect. But he has also produced a fascinating story about drug dealers and a penetrating analysis of poverty, the drug trade, and street culture. His method was “simply” (in concept but not in execution) to live in the community and hang out with dealers, taping their conversations (with their consent). This approach not only gives us information and insight that cannot be obtained in surveys and other techniques, it also gives the community and its problems a human face that allows the reader to understand “the anguish of growing up poor in the richest city in the world” (p. 8). It is a sympathetic portrayal of a self-destructive subculture and a forceful critique of the “structural” (political, economic, bureaucratic) forces that created and perpetuate it. I recommend it to anthropologists, as a fine example of ethnographic writing and research, but more importantly to those who can make a difference to the residents of El Barrios all across America-to mayors, city councilors, journalists, city planners, social workers, police officers, politicians, and teachers-as well as to all Americans, who should be concerned not only about crime, drugs, and urban decay, but most of all about the senseless albeit practically invisible destruction of so many lives.

    I assigned this book for a college course in Ethnography, and the students simply loved it. It got the highest rating of any book I have every used. They called it interesting, easy to read, insightful, fantastic, important, mind-boggling, wonderful, disturbing, engaging and exciting, and remarked that it deals with tough questions, could be offensive to some, and should be read by everyone.

  • Karla Mandahl
    4:26 on March 25th, 2013
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    I think this book was excelent but for a teenager like myself some of the vocabulary and profesional overviews were a little confusing. I think the premiss for the book was wonderful and I gained a lot from it.

  • Jacob Malewitz
    8:45 on March 25th, 2013
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    Bourgois book is an insightful look at Crack Cocaine dealers in East Harlem. It catches the attention of a variety a readers. One thing that readers should be aware of is that this book should not be used as a generalization of all people in East Harlem; he only deals with a small group in E. Harlem…mainly Puerto Rican crack dealers. The book shows a personal look at how poverty, drugs, violence and racism affect these people.

  • Sheena VC
    13:58 on March 25th, 2013
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    In the spirit of Bourgois, let me introduce myself. I’m a suburban white woman with a background in history. I was assigned to read this book for an “Aspects of Deviance” Sociology class. Bourgois’ approach to his research makes a lot of sense to me since I was taught (as a would-be historian) to take into account all backgrounds and prejudices of the author, the reader, and the characters (if applicable). Perhaps something that makes the read so easy is that the author so willingly points out his own thoughts and biases. This is not to say that our job as readers becomes only to sit back and enjoy the story, but it makes it easier to filter through the author’s analyses in order to modify the conclusion for yourself. Importantly, he liberally uses transcriptions of actual dialogues with the East Harlem crack dealers whom he befriends over three-plus years. Having that kind of access to the source of his research is invaluable in judging the situation for yourself.

    As for the content, I can think of no better way for me to get a glimpse into that kind of life and neighborhood. One of the only other books that comes close is an autobiography by Nathan McCall called Makes Me Wanna Holler. This book covers his experience going from a gang member in the 1970′s to “goin’ legit” as a journalist and often revisiting the demons of his past.

    Because the author discusses the idea of objectivity and various definitions of it, I want to mention one movie for anyone interested in better understanding how biases affect otherwise factual accounts. Courage Under Fire is a good example of understanding how various views, motives, and biases color different people’s accounts. As much as we would like it, we can never practically obtain the kind of completely unbiased, third-person view of a situation as we are given at the end of the movie, but, with practice, you can come close. This is not to say that you should be completely detached from what you read or see, but that you don’t have to get bogged down in the views of others.

  • Jassica McIntosh
    14:15 on March 25th, 2013
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    This book is a 5 for awakening of what was Harlem NY and for a sociological book, but a 4 because it is not something you will enjoy reading 2x. It is deep, complex, and if you are a young person reading it or someone unfamiliar with the mentallity of the oppressed being an oppressor in a unfeeling world…you may have to stop for a second and take a breath. The book is well written from a sociological and anthropological perspective and it will go from your heart and mind to the pit of your stomach, but it certainly is a wake up call to the social changes and conditions of poverty, drug use & abuse and the people sucked into that world.

    example: the author goes from talking about being “white” and seen as an outsider and recieving only bits of information to being ‘accepted’ and listening to “primo” explain when “they” gang raped a junkie and had to pistol whip his cousins wife because she wanted to have sexual relations with him while his cousin “the don” was in jail.

    It is an extrodinary book and not surprisingly has become more expensive to purchase as the years go forward.

  • arcanys
    19:19 on March 25th, 2013
    Reply to comment

    A well written, well researched ethnography that reveals structural violence and apartheid in America. Easy to read even for non-social scientists.

  • jonnKnoxx
    21:43 on March 25th, 2013
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    I had this book for my anthropology class (Kirin Narayan is a professor here at University of Wisconsin – Madison) and though more often than not I find assigned books to be boring, this one was the opposite and I read it more than once and kept it at the end of the year instead of selling it back because I thought it was so great. Ms. Narayan visited our class one day and talked to us about how she had to learn Urmila Devi Sood’s dialect before she could talk with her and record the folktales. I love the folktales in this book!! This is a great book to own!

  • WTF!
    23:08 on March 25th, 2013
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    I found this book to be one of the best I have ever read at exploring the tensions and struggles with living among, working with, and writing about poor, inner-city minorities. The book is relevant to, and I believe would be helpful to, social workers, educators, ethnographers/researchers, policy makers, and more. The author does an EXCELLENT job at making clear that there are not easy answers. In ways, of course, the people in the book are victims of poverty, of disenfranchisement, of racism…. But, as other reviewers have pointed out, they are also often violent people who take part in such awful acts as gang rape. How does that come together? As people who work in or write about such communities (or make laws that apply to those who live there) how can we understand these contradictions? What role can we play in that? What responsibility to the privileged of the US have to those who are severely underprivileged?
    This book explores both the technical aspects of the underground economy, specifically crack, as well as the moral and ethical questions that surround it.
    I did find that the book has shortcomings– as other reviewers have expressed, I’m not sure how comfortable I was with some of the “takes” Bourgois has on some of the people and situations in the book. However, I believe that there is no perfect book out there, especially on such a difficult and complex topic, and that over all the book is very important in exploring and addressing the issues that surround inner-city life and, in particular, the drug trade.

  • NaySayer
    1:45 on March 26th, 2013
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    great insight into street culture in a very poor area.Bourgois takes great strides to explain and put in perspective to the culture and motive for selling drugs in Harlem. recommended read for anybody in high school and older

  • Temeka Selvy
    3:34 on March 26th, 2013
    Reply to comment

    The stories told by Urmila Devi Sood in Kirin Narayan’s book “Earth into Gold” are woven as richly as a goldbrocade wedding sari. Many of the themes are freshand Ms Narayan’s commentary fleshes out thenarative for those seeking a deeper meaning of the tales that have been told by generations of story tellersin the small village in the Himalayas where Urmilaji lives.I reccommend this book for readers who enjoy folk talesas well as for the more serious scholar. I would also nothesitate to read these stories to children, as an alternative to Hans Christian Anderson and the Brothers Grimm

  • Renetto
    8:20 on March 26th, 2013
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    I read this book for a college anthropology class and found it extremely insightful. It exposed a lot of the culture surrounding the environment where crack dealing flourishes. Bourgois was very understandable, using his experiences and tape recordings to make the scenes vivid and realistic.

  • DaveyNC
    10:45 on March 26th, 2013
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    Striking, horrific at times and ultimately enlightening, this book rips away the facade we’d like to see and gets to what is. It gets to the heart of the struggles those in El Barrio of New York must face. Their viable options are few, their solutions repellent, but these are real people who’ve been marginalized by mainstream society. For a look inside the El Barrio of the nineties, read this book!

  • George Bachmann
    17:28 on March 26th, 2013
    Reply to comment

    This book was good in that the author went down into the ghetto area of East Harlem and befriended some crack dealers and then proceeded to write an account of their life, showing the difficulties and how outright pitiful their existence really is. It becomes relatively plain that selling crack isn’t a glorious life but is an outright lame existence.

    He shows how many of the crack dealers are addicts themselves, that many these people can’t hold down the lowest level minimum wage jobs, and how these people are essentially destroying themselves and helping to destroy their communities which gets me to the flaws of this book.

    The author tries to constantly apply cultural marxism and other ivory-tower belief systems to the crack dealers and attempts to argue that they are really victims of sociological determinism ie victims of the system.

    When in fact through a simpler reading and analysis of text it’s clear that these people are victims of their own folly Choosing not to complete school, choosing to not only sell the drugs but do them, choosing to beat their wives, choosing not to save large amounts of money that occasionally come in but to blow that money on drugs and alcohol.

    All that being said, the book is pretty good but you got to be willing to read past when the authors attempt to see everything through cultural marxism, and interpret the data for yourself.

  • dontbeafool
    18:07 on March 26th, 2013
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    New when recieved in perfect condition within a timely manner. Read the book and it was good. Passed the class.

    21:17 on March 26th, 2013
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    I read this book as a junior Sociology major at Berkeley. This book makes me want to quit my day job and go back to school to explore academia again. Highly inspirational anthropological account of growing up impoverished in NY and selling crack to make ends meet. Like many people, I do not support drugs in any way as it contributes to the decline of families and communities, but I love how this book guides you through the intricacies of street (drug) life with a nice layer of dignity and integrity.

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