richard price & sally price

Harvard University Press, 1995

German edition, Ernst Kabel Verlag, 1998

the authors on the prowl in Bahia

Enigma Variations:
A Novel

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by Richard Price and Sally Price

In a steamy colonial city, an eccentric Frenchman offers for sale an extraordinary collection of primitive art. The two anthropologists called in to appraise the pieces for the national museum quickly find themselves in a world where the boundaries of authenticity and deception blur in the tropical heat. Enigma Variations -- in the tradition of The Recognitions and The Crying of Lot 49 -- is an entertainment as readable for its intellectual power as for its irresistible drama.

"A fabulous and unique artifact, an art-historical whodunit told with great flair, intelligence, and sensitivity. Like the art it tells us so much about, Enigma Variations is a hybrid work that keeps tempting you to read it as fact although it is officially labeled fiction.... For the reader, puzzling out which is which is part of the enigmatic charm of the Prices' book -- a novel based on the authors' anthropological experiences. The Prices certainly have the great novelist's ability to breathe life into the people they invent -- and also, it appears, to breathe life into the living."
--Raymond Sokolov, Wall Street Journal

"A genre-busting meditation on the nature of genre-busting... One might even say the mask of mystery and steamy tropical adventure this book wears is exactly the right outfit for approaching the question of what is and what is not art today -- whether in the humid workshops of the Amazon or in the galleries of SoHo."
--Harvey Blume, Art New England

"Strikingly well crafted.... A useful account of the social and commercial processes whereby art objects are 'authenticated,' and of the roles scholars play in those processes. The theoretical arguments raised by the novel (concerning the epistemological status of 'real' versus 'fake' objects) are not new, but Enigma Variations will give readers a three-dimensional sense of the intellectual and social work that goes into establishing the status of particular objects. Enigma Variations is, in short, a tour de force -- and lots of fun."
--Richard Handler, Museum Anthropology

"Enigma Variations, an allegorical novella, is a true gem.... The promise of literary ethnography is fulfilled ... in Enigma Variations: to educate and, just as a lark, to entertain."
--Bennetta Jules-Rosette, African Arts

"What is authentic? Where do we draw the lines? In this unusual, distinctive, and very engaging work, Richard Price and Sally Price show that the elusive answer to these questions is less cut and dried than we might think."
--Elizabeth Wein, Journal of American Folklore

"A rare combination of scholarly passion and an exuberant narrative skill.... Every page startles with some new revelation."
--George Lamming

Selected Books:

“Richard and Sally Price’s elegiac account of their time living among the Saamakas of Suriname in the 1960s is wholly engrossing, and of the very highest narrative quality. I can see, smell, and feel everything they describe. The Prices have never been fresher or more readable as literature.” --George E. Marcus
Boléro Tropical, a French-language reimagining of Enigma Variations, is now available from and
Winner of the 2012 Best Book Award of the American Political Science Association in the field of Human Rights and the 2012 Senior Book Prize of the American Ethnological Society. "An extraordinary work, actively written and exceptionally thought-provoking, Rainforest Warriors will be a classic." --Donald Brenneis, UC Santa Cruz
"A delicious combination of art, anthropology, and politics"--Lucy R. Lippard. "A fascinating, entertaining, and troubling book"--Journal of Anthropological Research. "A complex story of passion, intrigue, and power"--Journal of Surrealism and the Americas. "A crackling good story"--Museum.
Winner of the 2008 Victor Turner Prize in Ethnographic Writing, the 2009 Gordon K. and Sybil Lewis Memorial Award for Caribbean Scholarship, and the 2009 Clifford Geertz Prize in the Anthropology of Religion. . . . "An astonishing performance ... as lucid and cordial as the best contemporary fiction.”--George Lamming
A lavishly-illustrated art book
A French-language original, printed in full color.
"A tour-de-force ... a true marriage of anthropology and art history." --Fred Myers, New York University
"A witty, but scholarly, indictment of the whole primitive art business." --Newsweek
"A superb calaloo of a book ... that explores the underlying insanity of the colonial experience." --George Lamming
"A true gem... The promise of literary ethnography is fulfilled: to educate and, just as a lark, to entertain." --African Arts
"Sensitive and honest, First-Time is required reading for all who seek to learn something new through first-hand, long-term research with non-western intellectuals" --Ethnohistory
"A splendid effort to recover the past." --New York Review of Books
"A splendid anthology, skillfully edited and introduced." --Eugene D. Genovese
"An innovative analysis of the creativity of African-Americans under the extreme constraints of slavery." --Rebecca Scott
"Conceived with sophistication but presented with simplicity and clarity" --Choice
"A brilliantly crafted experiment in postmodern narration --J. Jorge Klor de Alva, president, University of Phoenix
As seas dry up, books speak out loud, and elephants assume human form, we are present at a whole sequence of world-shaping happenings such as the invention of sex, the discovery of drums,and the arrival of death among humans.
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