A friend at work loaned me his book "The Serpent and the Rainbow" a while ago. I don't remember exactly when, but it was probably last summer. I don't borrow books often, but when I do, (I drink Dos Equis...) I like to think that I don't squat on them. When someone loans you a book or (I'm dating myself a little here) a CD, etc. they're sharing a little part of themselves that they want you to enjoy, too. But it's usually with the understanding that they'll get it back.
Anyway, I borrowed "Serpent" last summer and got off to a good start. I got about 100 pages into it and for some reason lost my momentum. But initially, this book fell into that dangerous gray area for books of being just good enough that I wanted to finish it, but not good enough to keep me from putting it down.
Finally, over the holiday break, I picked it up again and finished it off. It turns out that the book got pretty good in the second half, and I wish I had stuck with it a little longer back during my initial push.
"The Serpent and the Rainbow" is a non-fiction autobiography from Wade Davis, an ethnobotanist--a scientist who studies the relationships between man and plant--who set out to learn if there was any legitimacy and pharmaceutical value to claims of Hatian voodoo medicines being able to turn people into zombis. Now, when I say zombi, I'm not talking about "The Walking Dead" or "Night of the Living Dead" diseased and reanimated corpses who only crave the flesh of the living (typically spelled as "zombie"). This type of zombi is more of a metaphysical slave. That is, the notion that a voodoo priest is able to capture the part of the soul that allows it to have free thought, thereby claiming the person's body to do its bidding.
The book details the travels of Davis to Haiti in the early 1980s to see if the zombi potion actually exists, secure a sample, and bring it back to the US to be studied and reverse engineered for use in western medicine. As the book moves along, he lays out the history and politics of Haiti which gives context to the voodoo religion and its role in driving the social structures of that country. He also lays out the histories of various poisons around the world that were known to share some properties of the zombi potion and how that info helped him zero in on what the zombi concoction could be made of.
The last third of the book describes his exploration into the secret voodoo society itself as he and a fellow researcher attempted to become assimilated into it.
I'll give the book a good recommendation. It's not the best book I've ever read, but it was interesting. I'm a bit cynical of the truthfulness of Davis's report, because it's almost too strange to believe. But if you take it at face value, it's still interesting stuff on the off chance that it's true.
Last of all, if the name of the book rings a bell, that may be because there was a suspense horror movie released under the same title in the mid-'80s. The movie is loosely based on the premise of the book, but it is turned into a fictional and Hollywooded-up version of the story. I actually had seen the movie before I read the book. I have a feeling these words have been said before: the book was much better.
A.P., I promise I'll get your book back to you soon.