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The Hundred Thousand Fools of God: Musical Travels in Central Asia (and Queens, New York) Hardcover – January 1, 1997


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Indiana University Press (January 1, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0253332060
  • ISBN-13: 978-0253332066
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,057,106 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

When a Princeton-trained ethnomusicologist returns to follow up his studies in the Central Asian nations east of China and north of Afghanistan, he stumbles into a cornucopia of music, history, and religion. With a trusty guide called OM, Theodore Levin travels back and forth through the newly liberated cities and countryside of an ancient land that is home to such exotic names as Tashkent and Samarkand. Levin writes not only about his successes in identifying and recording the musical traditions of the area but also of the experiences of the people under Soviet rule, the myths that are kept alive through music, and the healers that use music as therapy. Levin finds a complex and colorful mix of ethnic and religious traditions where music unites Jew, Muslim, and shaman. The Hundred Thousand Fools of God is more than just a travel diary: it is a snapshot of an evolving culture. And the accompanying CD is divine. --Brian Bruya

From Publishers Weekly

Dartmouth professor Levin ventures in search of "the 100,000 fools of god," those enlightened Central Asian musicians whose art conveys both moral and spiritual power. He's interested in how musical life "reflects the... fluid boundaries and identities" of people in the rich cultural domain sometimes known as "Transoxania" now that Soviet domination of the region has ended. From Uzbekistan to Tvarkist, and through parts of Kyrghyzstan and Kazakhstan, Levin travels in an old Russian auto with a fellow ethnomusicologist and Sufi chauffeur as companions. The subject is music, but Levin uses it to cast a wider light, revealing places of considerable sorrow long hidden in the shadows of Soviet power, and to create a travelogue with wide potential appeal. Along the way he encounters men who entertain him lavishly without asking his name, brilliant forgotten composers, baxshis (healers) and a thoughtful Uzbeki pop star. Gracefully responsive to craft, Levin takes in architecture, food and cultural mores. He cannily appraises cultural issues in polyglot cultures where nationalism threatens indigenous musics?many practiced by both Muslims and Jews?as much as Soviet policy ever did. Candor about his own uncertainties and personal struggles helps make this a personal as well as a scholarly adventure. A superb accompanying 24-track CD with location recordings proves integral to Levin's commentary.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 29, 2001
Format: Paperback
This book is a many faceted report on the state of music in the Central Asian Republics of the former Soviet Union, especially Uzbekistan. The author did his Ph.D. research in ethnomusicology in Tashkent on traditional court music called Shash maqam in 1977-1978. At the time, Levin was not as interested in this music as he had expected, which he later attributed to the Soviet cultural policies which extinguished the spark of vivacity from the Uzbek music. This book details many of the author's subsequent travels to Central Asia in search of traditional musicians who managed somehow to develop their unique talents within the stifling socialist milieu.
Levin provides much information about the artists, their music, and their poetry, which can all be heard on the accompanying CD. In the text itself, he rarely describes the instruments played by the musicians, referring to them merely with their local names. However, descriptions of the instruments can be found in the glossary at the end of the book, which I unfortunately didn't notice until I had finished reading. Occasionally, Levin's musicology terms get a little too thick for the general reader, but on the whole, the book is quite accessible.
The strongest aspect of the book is its description of the culture history of music in the Soviet Union. In my own brief travels to the Soviet Union, I was struck by how many people there were acquainted with classical music--how an appreciation of classical music stretched across the entire society. I never saw the dark side of this, however. In this book, Levin describes how centralized state policies governed even the field of music, changing and obliterating centuries' old traditions.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Bob Newman VINE VOICE on March 25, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Six years ago, I wrote my first review for Amazon, of Richard N. Frye's "Bukhara: The Medieval Achievement". Frye's work, concentrating mostly on the 10th and 11th centuries, described in detail how Turkic-speaking nomads combined with Iranian city dwellers and Arab bringers of a new religion to create a new synthesis in Islam in Central Asia, particularly in the city of Bukhara. That syncretic Islam later became most instrumental in the development of the Muslim faith in the Indian subcontinent. Levin's THE HUNDRED THOUSAND FOOLS OF GOD mainly describes the condition of music and musicians in the 1990s in the modern republics of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. That same Richard N. Frye provides a strong endorsement on the back cover. I too find that this volume is a worthy successor in the on-going "project" of bringing Central Asian history and culture before Western eyes. The musical world of Central Asia still involves synthesis and syncretism---between the West and tradition, between new conservatism and older tolerance, between Soviet atheism and local spirituality, between Islam and older religions which we might label shamanistic, and between so-called ethnic groups like Uzbeks and Tajiks.
Levin travelled around the region with a musical companion, Otanazar Matyakubov, who provided endless contacts and insights. Together they interviewed and listened to all the varied performers of Central Asian music, from a female pop singer to humble performers of classical styles, from healers in remote villages who used music in their rituals to performers at schmaltzy Jewish weddings in the transplanted Bukharan Jewish community in Queens, New York.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 30, 1998
Format: Hardcover
Mr. Levin has truly accomplished something noteworthy in this book. It is perhaps the best book from the often boring realm of ethnomusicological research that I have read in recent years. The breadth of understanding and acute cultural awareness brought out in the book is fantastic. It should find an audience among music scholars as well as the average reader, especially given the uncomplicated way Levin tells his tale. The addition of the CD to the book is truly complimentary unlike many of the other "multi-media" gimmicks so often offered to entice the buyer. This book is essential for anyone who seeks a clarity in writing about the musics of another culture.
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