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January/February 2014
 
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The Magic Island, by W.B. Seabrook (1929)

IS TRUTH stranger than fiction? W. B. Seabrook thought so. Set in Haiti in 1928, The Magic Island was illustrated by Alexander King, author of My Enemy Grows Older, a noted raconteur who often appeared on the Jack Paar Tonight show in the late '50s.

Seabrook also contributed several photographs of the main figures of this story, which takes the reader to secret ceremonies of voodoo and black sorcery. Here blood-maddened men and women dance their dark Saturnalia to the wild drums at the altar of sacrifice (usually a sheep or a goat): the Bull-God who must die for the good of all. In black voodoo, sometimes humans were sacrifices but only, the author assures us, as willing volunteers from within the religious group.

Seabrook lived for a time with Maman Célie, High Priestess of the Mysteries, who taught him about those who have died from a curse who are later revived as Zombies and, as walking corpses, become ready workers in the cane fields of wealthy land-owners. Other Haitian figures include the God Incarnate who, after eating and drinking and giving predictions and commands, sheds his finery and appears as a humble, ragged black man, mumbling incoherently. The author also met Papa Nebo, a hermaphroditic Oracle of the Dead, who performed ceremonies over corpses.

The language, while somewhat stilted, is still readable and exciting, reeking of the lush, eerie jungle vegetation of Haiti, and of its inhabitants' dark lore and rites.

—Lawrence Forbes

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