The Pequod Review:
I've read Ishmael Reed's Mumbo Jumbo twice and I’m still not sure if it is a masterpiece or a giant put-on. Reed imagines Black Culture (music, religion, liberation theory) as an epidemic spreading across the United States, but in a science-fiction twist the epidemic is under attack by a variety of ancient white-based societies with names like The Knights Templar and The Teutonic Knights. The plot is just strong enough to hold the book together, but what really elevates it is its experimental style, which is full of charts, photographs, parenthetical comments from Reed himself, Capitalized Words, alternate spellings, and a loose jazz-like prose. Here for example is how he describes Jes Grew (the name he gives to the Black Culture movement):
Jes Grew, the Something or Other that led Charlie Parker to scale the Everests of the Chord. Riff fly skid dip soar and gave his Alto Godspeed. Jes Grew that touched John Coltrane’s Tenor; that tinged the voice of Otis Redding…
Imagine the Illuminatus Triology rewritten by William Gaddis or David Foster Wallace.