Against the backdrop of 18th and 19th-century New Orleans, A New Orleans Voudou Priestess: The Legend and Reality of Marie Laveau disentangles the complex threads of the legend surrounding the famous Voudou priestess. According to mysterious, oft-told tales, Laveau was an extraordinary celebrity whose sorcery-fueled influence extended widely from slaves to upper-class whites. Some accounts claim that she led the "orgiastic" Voudou dances in Congo Square and on the shores of Lake Pontchartrain, kept a giant snake named Zombi, and was the proprietress of an infamous house of assignation. Though legendary for an unusual combination of spiritual power, beauty, charisma, showmanship, intimidation, and shrewd business sense, she was also known for her kindness and charity, nursing yellow fever victims and ministering to condemned prisoners, and her devotion to the Roman Catholic Church. The true story of Marie Laveau, though considerably less flamboyant than the legend, is equally compelling.In separating verifiable fact from semi-truths and complete fabrication, Long explores the unique social, political, and legal setting in which the lives of Marie Laveau's African and European ancestors became intertwined. Changes in New Orleans engendered by French and Spanish rule, the Louisiana Purchase, the Civil War, Reconstruction, and Jim Crow segregation affected seven generations of Laveau's family, from enslaved great-grandparents of pure African blood to great-grandchildren who were legally classified as white. Simultaneously, Long examines the evolution of New Orleans Voudou, which until recently has been ignored by scholars. The book is published by University Press of Florida.
©2006 Carolyn Morrow Long (P)2011 Redwood Audiobooks
"There are few figures in New Orleans history as alluring as Marie Laveau... a figure who stood at the very nexus of religion, music, commerce, and history, and this fascinating, well-documented volume is the worthy result." (New Orleans Times-Picayune)
This book is a well-researched historical exploration of Marie Laveau, and deserves to be read. However, the choice of the reader worked against the text so much that I was unable to finish the book. I had read it in print form, and was eager to listen to it and reflect on the author's analyses of historical documents as I listened. The reader mispronounced many of the key names in the book, and the vocal quality was orotund and lethargic, making it very difficult to listen to. What made it even more frustrating was that the overall pitch of the reader's voice was perfect for the content. I only wish he had taken the time (or been given the opportunity) to practice the reading and to receive feedback on his oral interpretation from someone in a position to correct errors and problematic phrasing (like, perhaps, the author?).
The book is full of great historical facts, records and information, however, it lacks all the soul. You would expect a story about the infamous Voodoo Priestess of New Orleans to be a little more engaging with it's material, but in the end, it reads more like an in-depth thesis project or research paper. While the book is geared as non-fiction, a tad bit more of a narrative feel would not be amiss.
As long as Ian Eugene Ryan wasn't reading it.
Mr. Ryan sounded as if he was falling asleep while reading the book, which was exactly what was happening to me as I listened to him. With all due respect, Ian Eugene Ryan sucked the life from the story. While the material was dry to begin with, Mr. Ryan turned it as bone dry as the corpses rotting in St. Louis Cemetery!
If I could play editor, I would have hired someone with a bit more gusto to read the book. However, the structure of the book would also need a bit of tweaking and while I would keep the facts and records where they are, I'd be sure to make them more bearable to listen to. Many readers who would consider this of interest are looking for something to immerse themselves in the origins of this folklorish legend, but wouldn't be the type to stomach hours upon hours of dry, unimaginable, non-engaging fact!
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