Mumbo Jumbo is an experimental novel that blends fiction and history. In it, Jes Grew, an epidemic of ecstasy originating in New Orleans, is rapidly taking over the United States, making people dance, laugh, and love life. It can be the blues, jazz, ragtime, or slang and black vernacular. Jes Grew needs its Text to survive, and apparently the Text exists somewhere in Manhattan.
The novel takes place in 1920’s Harlem. PaPa LaBas’s search for the Text and the murderer of Abdul Hamid is linked to the ancient past of Egypt. Reed gives a revisionary interpretation of the rise of Western civilization, one based on an Afrocentric worldview. The conflicts in the novel revolve around a basic split in human consciousness. Osiris, the Egyptian god, created a sect of life-affirming principles that resulted in Jes Grew. Set, his brother, instigated an antilife sect determined to destroy the world—the Atonists. Osiris’s dances of fertility are recorded in The Book of Thoth, the original Text of Jes Grew. The lost Text was discovered in 1118 by the Knights Templar, a secret Christian society formed during the Crusades. Hinckle Von Vampton, an original member of the Knights Templar, steals the Text. In 1307, Pope Clement outlaws the Knights Templar, and Von Vampton escapes with the Text. Wherever Von Vampton goes with the Text, there are spontaneous outbreaks of Jes Grew as people sense the nearness of the sacred book.
The latest outbreak of Jes Grew occurs during the 1920’s in Harlem. This is the period of the Harlem Renaissance, a great...
(The entire section is 639 words.)