Sophie Haluk reviews “Boléro Tropical”


Sophie Haluk (Radio Aligre, Paris) reviews, Sally and Richard Price’s Boléro tropical (2016) for Aica Caraïbe du Sud. [See our previous post New Book: Richard and Sally Price’s “Boléro tropical”.] Here is my translation (see the original in the link below):

Eminent American anthropologists Sally and Richard Price have dedicated their lives to the study of Maroon societies, in particular that of the Saamaka people, descendants of runaway slaves of Suriname, former Dutch colony of North Eastern South America. Sharing their lives and learning their language, the couple has forged profound long-term links that enabled them to access knowledge previously reserved only for initiated saamakas. Their research has greatly stimulated and developed the study of Afro-American worlds.

Throughout their brilliant career, which led them to teach in some of the most prestigious U.S. universities, the couple has never stopped publishing together. Boléro tropical is their first novel. But is this the right term for this hybrid work that combines murder mystery, art, and anthropology? It is the story of an eccentric Frenchman who puts up for sale an extraordinary art collection that a couple of anthropologists must appraise. The challenge offered by the book is to sort out the false from the true—to grasp the confusing boundary between the two at various levels: fiction or reality; true collector or forger; true ancient work of art or copy? And . . . who is the manipulator in this story?

Written in a delicious style where humor and suspense grab hold of the reader from the very first pages without ever letting go, Boléro tropical presents a successful challenge: to lead us—in a very different but no less effective way than their analytical works do—to reflect on the Western gaze on the arts known as “primitive,” and how this gaze affects the very production of these arts, modifying their role. For Sally Price, this is an important theme, which she addressed in Arts primitifs, regard civilisé [translated from Primitive Art in Civilized Places] and Paris Primitive: Jacques Chirac’s Museum on the Quai Branly (University of Chicago Press, 2007, and published in French by Éditions Denoël in 2011).

Through fiction, Sally and Richard Price make us step into a universe to which they have been in close proximity as anthropologists: the market for primitive arts, its collectors, galleries, boutiques, museums, and not forgetting, of course, the artists themselves, who face increasing Western demand for the ever seductive primitive art.

The particular flavor of the book—in addition to the subtle game in which we are invited to participate—is also revealed in the unveiling of the exciting life they have managed to build, the life of an odd couple who share so much, which, in my view, along with their work, is their greatest achievement.

For original review (in French), see

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