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Indigo: In Search of the Color That Seduced the World Hardcover – May 24, 2011
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From Publishers Weekly
“[McKinley] introduces the reader to a wide cast of characters who slip in and out of the narrative unobtrusively.” ―Kirkus Reviews
“The sections in which [McKinley] focuses on the history of indigo are fascinating, and some of her vivid descriptions shimmer with an almost cinematic quality.” ―Ingrid Levin, Library Journal
“Call it blue gold, the devil's dye, or the cloth of history; indigo is the color that launched the ships and caravans of worldwide commerce. It encompasses the slave trade, the factories of European industry, and the woman-dominated markets of Africa. It binds the blue sails of Columbus's ships to denim jeans and the exquisite hand-woven fabrics collectors crave. Catherine McKinley follows her passion, her ‘insatiable, desire' for this beauty and history to Africa. There she enters a complex world--ancient, post-modern, stable and volatile. It demands that she be student, adventurer, aesthete and journalist: she meets these demands with restless intelligence, scrupulous honesty, a love of paradox and a generous exuberance. Indigo haunted her; now it will haunt you.” ―Margo Jefferson, author of On Michael Jackson
“A charming book: ethereal, wise, personal, as well as an imaginative exploration of what this color really might be, when you go under the surface of its just being about blue.” ―Victoria Finlay, author of Color: A Natural History of the Palette
“Indigo is a journey in every sense of the word, and one undertaken with an engaging passion. It is also, in the words of Miles Davis, Kind of Blue.” ―Mark Kurlansky, author of Salt
“Catherine McKinley's Indigo is a moving and lyrical journey through several continents and through the writer's own internal landscapes. This beautiful and unforgettable book, like indigo itself, reaches deeply into all our lives.” ―Edwidge Danticat, author of Brother, I'm Dying
On page 4 of Indigo: In Search of the Color that Seduced the World, "1974" should read "1794."
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Top Customer Reviews
McKinley has taken what might have been a rather dull, dry topic and turned it into something incredibly compelling. However the title of the book is misleading and my sense is perhaps the publisher wasn't really sure how best to categorize it. This isn't just a history of indigo...it's also a seamless series of travel essays, a memoir, a social, political, and cultural commentary, and lastly -- an unflinching homage to Africa and art. The writing is eloquent and poetic, the descriptions vivid...an excellent reminder of what good writing looks like. McKinley is incredibly respectful of her subject matter without coming across as stiff...she treats people and places with a quiet dignity and a gentle sense of humor. And she doesn't flinch from depicting the harsh realities of life in Gold Coast Africa, especially for women and children.
I've never been to Africa...and, for the most part, I've never had a burning desire to go. But McKinley has sparked an interest in me, a desire to see for myself some of the things she brought to life in the pages of her book. Even though her primary focus was the Gold Coast areas (with a beautiful glimpse into the Tuareg culture of North Africa) she did an excellent job of giving me a sense of the sheer enormity of the continent and the seemingly rich, infinite sub-strata of languages and cultures that it holds. And the clothes! As someone who's wardrobe consists of black, white, and brown...Read more ›
The book is actually a very personal account of the author's search for authentic indigo-dyed fabrics, and her description of the important cultural role which these fabrics had (and still have to some extent, especially in the case of the tagelmust of the Tuareg). Her search began with a Fulbright grant to study the tradition of adire tie-dyed fabric in Nigeria (a trip which was, alas, sabotaged by unrest in that country), and continued with repeated trips to Africa over the next decade. The author is not only searching for fabric, but also for African culture and for an understanding of her own multi-racial heritage. The indigo-dying techniques which she looks for are, for the most part, a dying or even completely lost art: as she says at one point, she often felt herself "a tourist of the past." I didn't learn much about indigo, but found the book to be a fascinating description of life and death in Ghana and other West African countries.
McKinley mentions that during wilderness hikes with her parents, she always felt something missing -- the human connection. And that's exactly what you'll find in Indigo: lots of interesting characters, from McKinley's cheerful Ghanaian friend Eurama, to an Ivory Coast potter, to the trokosi, women held in a particularly disturbing form of ritual servitude. Many of the episodes are fascinating in their own right, like the traditional Ghanaian funeral that occupies a good chunk of the book, but are only loosely related to indigo.
This is a bit frustrating if you were expecting a book about, well, indigo. The memoir is organized (mostly) chronologically, based on McKinley's trip to Africa on a Fullbright grant. What information there is about indigo crops up somewhat haphazardly, with some disorienting jumps in time and lots of digressions as McKinley's attempts to locate genuine indigo are frustrated. (By the time she visits Africa, indigo has been almost entirely replaced by synthetic dyes and imported prints, so she spends most of the book on its disappearing trail.)
Once you accept the idea that Indigo isn't really about indigo, it's an interesting enough travelogue through a part of the world I will probably never visit. McKinley has a nice ear for dialogue and brings the people she meets to life.Read more ›
McKinley's writing in this book is absolutely lovely. Lyrical, LUSH, informative. Reading this book is a multi-sensual experience. Every part of me was involved. And it gave me a lens through which to view so many things that were once ordinary.
The book also provided me with a way to excavate my own travel narratives. I've buried my voyages to Paris and Senegal and Morocco under the murderous recounting of "I went to X." While reading Indigo, I found myself drawn to my journals. The book provided me with a way of re-visiting those momentous experiences and people and share them in a different way. Most importantly, I was drawn to revisit myself and what I was searching for, when I was there.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
A great book to read as you trace Catherine's steps to understanding her connection to indigo.Published 8 months ago by LJ Harlem, NY
The author tells a story with vivid and introspective words that takes the reader on her journey which would otherwise be terribly boring, There are no recipes, but some technique... Read morePublished 9 months ago by Jennifer Ratcliffe
This book is a nice story about a girl searching for her African roots in the guise of a search for indigo. If you want to know about indigo look elsewhere.Published 10 months ago by idrinkfairtrade
I'd like more about indigo intertwined with the author's personal story. More of an autobiography than a history, so it depends on the reader's taste.Published 17 months ago by L. Ryder Jerrome
Describing her journey in search of indigo cloth, McKinley combines scholarship, spirituality and imagination to make a richly layered narrative of one small piece of the complex... Read morePublished 21 months ago by syd carpenter
This is less about the dye than the fabric of Africa. This name is misleading. The writing jumps around. It is sometimes hard to follow. Read morePublished 21 months ago by john p. lee