Show Me the Magic: Travels Round Benin by Taxi

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9780141001364: Show Me the Magic: Travels Round Benin by Taxi

This is a travel book about Dahomey (Benin) - an inhospitable country in Africa where corruption is rife and where Catholicism shares a place with Gri Gri, the local Voodoo. The muslim north of the country is arid and tough, whereas the south is colourful, sophisticated and artistic. The countryside ranges from pretty English rural, to arid sub-Sahara. Annie experiences this country of contrasts from the back seat of a taxi driven by a wacky control freak called Isidore.

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Review:

Benin is an obscure place. As Annie Caulfield says in Show Me the Magic, her perceptive travelogue about the country, even her most knowledgeable friends had only heard of the British Museum's famous Benin bronzes--and those in fact hail from Nigeria. But Benin's attractions are obvious after reading this book, for this small West African state is the home of vodou--not the pin-sticking cult sensationalised in popular psychology, but a religion whose origins far predate those of monotheism.

Benin's history is as rich as its mythology, and so, in parallel with the journey into vodou is one into the ancient kingdom of Dahomey, as Caulfield visits the various centres of this old African empire. As the book's title implies, though, much of the narrative involves mysticism. The profusion of magical beliefs in West Africa is as great today as it has ever been; here, most people believe things that would have them confined to asylums elsewhere, and indeed, as Caulfield is guided round the country by Isidore, her taxi driver, she sees the magical beliefs of the Beninois as a means of masking mental illness--like many an anthropologist before her.

Nevertheless, her scepticism about magic does not harm the narrative's integrity. Her friendship with Isidore is sensitively drawn, and she has a strong understanding of the history of Dahomey, as well as of the callousness so often shown towards Africa by Europeans. By the end, we care deeply about the characters we have met, and, whether the magic is real or not, we know that Benin is a special place.--Toby Green

Review:

'This book is so memorable and enjoyable. It's very moving but also bloody funny. Buy it' Lenny Henry

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Caulfield, Annie
Published by Penguin Books Ltd 2003-04-24 (2003)
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