Ty Burr
April 23, 1993 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Song From the Forest: My Life Among the Ba-banjalle Pygmies

Current Status
In Season
Louis Sarno
Houghton Mifflin
Nonfiction, Music
We gave it a B-

Louis Sarno heard a recording of a Pygmy song on the radio in 1980 and was so struck by its beauty that he was compelled to follow the music to its source. Song From the Forest is the account of his journey, and in many respects it’s sure to drive more traditional anthropologists around the bend. Soon after arriving in the Central African Republic as a ”musicologist,” Sarno shed his objectivity and fell in love with a Ba-Banjellé tribeswoman named Ngbali; his account of their courtship and her eventual rejection of him is as discomfiting to read as a teenager’s diary. On the other hand, if Sarno hadn’t gone native, the Pygmies of Amopolo might not come through as the poignant individuals the author (who still lives with them) shows them to be. Despite its solipsism, Song raises serious and rarely flattering questions about cultural imperialism — about what the Pygmies ask of us and vice versa. But Sarno’s romantic mooning grows tiresome. Too bad the reader can’t pop in the cassette of Pygmy songs the publishers included with review copies; the shivery polyphonic sounds explain the author’s passion far better than his words do. B-

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