H. Arlo Nimmo

Cultural anthropologist


The Sea People of Sulu.  A Study of Social Change in the Philippines.  1972.  San Francisco: Chandler Publishing Company.

The Sea People of Sulu. A Study of Social Change in the PhilippinesThis published version of H. Arlo Nimmo’s PhD dissertation (The Structure of Bajau Society) explores the changes that occurred among the Bajau (aka Sama Dilaut) of Tawi-Tawi in the southern Philippines when they abandoned boat-dwelling to become house-dwellers.  The data were collected during twenty-four months of field research (1963, 1965-67) among two communities of Bajau, namely the boat-dwellers of the Tawi-Tawi Islands and the house-dwellers of Sitangkai Island.  The book describes the two communities’ social organization, including households, family alliances, kinship groups and community.

The study is primarily descriptive of the changes that Bajau society underwent with the abandonment of the nomadic boat-life and the move to a more sedentary house-life.  Nimmo contends that the geneses of practically all the seemingly new features of the house-dwelling society are found in the behavioral patterns of the nomadic boat-dwelling society.  He claims that new social behavior can be traced through a finite number of steps to its origin – usually in the traditional society.  Confrontation or more intimate association with a second society may provide models for behavior or may open opportunities which make formerly less popular alternatives now more popular and may create new possible configurations thereby setting about processes of change; but the genesis of most new behavior can be found in the traditional society.   These seemingly new patterns of behavior emerge from the alternative patterns of the traditional society which were always available when the dominant patterns could not be followed.  Consequently, to deal with social change, the anthropologist must know the jural rules of the society as well as the allowable deviations from those rules.

ISBN: 0700201971, 104 pages, 6 photos, 3 maps, 8 tables, bibliography, index.

The Sea People of Sulu has a Japanese language edition.

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Bajau of the Philippines. 1972. Ethnocentrism Series. New Haven: Human Relations Area Files, Inc. 

Bajau of the PhilippinesThis is one of twenty books in the Ethnocentrism Series of the Cross-Cultural Study of Ethnocentrism conducted by Robert A LeVine and Donald T Campbell and sponsored by the Carnegie Foundation. A standardized format for conducting interviews was provided for each anthropologist participating in the study. The content of the interview schedule was determined by its theoretical relevance to the phenomenon of ethnocentrism. The interviews in this book were conducted by H. Arlo Nimmo in 1967 and are direct translations of interviewee responses to the interview schedule.

Sections I and V present background material on the Bajau (aka Sama Dilaut) and the interviewees. Section II contains vernacular terms for concepts of social organization and aggression.   Sections III and IV contain the interview schedule itself with responses obtained from local interviewees. Questions in Section III.A are designed to elicit a list of salient out-groups from each interviewee; those in Section III.B involve the in-group’s imagery of each of those out-groups while III.C deals with the nature of in-group/out-group relations. In Sections III.D and III.E, the interviewee is asked to make relative ratings of the in-group and all out-groups on certain characteristics, including traits which are evaluated in Section III.G. Section III.F contains data on in-group self-imagery.

The final sections of the interview deal with internal features of the in-group: interpersonal and other forms of intra-group aggression, sexual behavior, forms of deviant behavior, beliefs and rituals, child-rearing practices and patterns of authority. All questions are designed to obtain retrospective information, i.e. the interviewee’s memory of conditions existing prior to extensive contact.

255 pages, 2 maps, bibliography.

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Directions in Pacific Traditional Literature. Essays in Honor of Katharine Luomala. 1976. Adrienne L. Kaeppler and H. Arlo Nimmo, editors. Honolulu: Bishop Museum Press.

Directions in Pacific Traditional Literature, Essays in Honor of Katharine LuomalaCo-edited by H. Arlo Nimmo and Adrienne L. Kaeppler, this book is a Festschrift for Katharine Luomala, renowned Polynesian literature scholar, on her retirement from teaching at the University of Hawaii. It includes a biography of Luomala and a bibliography of her publications by Leonard Mason. The sixteen essays by her colleagues and students discuss traditional Pacific literature from Micronesia, Polynesia, Melanesia, Indonesia and the Philippines.



Contents include:

  1. “The Apotheosis of Marespa” by William A. Lessa.
  2. “The Origin of Clans on Namu, Marshall Islands” by Nancy A. Pollock.
  3. “Aspects of the Word Lei” by Mary Kawena Pukui.
  4. “Connotative Values of Hawaiian Place Names” by Samuel H. Elbert.
  5. “Hawaiian Chants and Songs Used in Political Campaigns” by Eleanor Williamson.
  6. “The Fireball in Hawaiian Folklore” by William K. Kikuchi.
  7. “Tuamotuan Chants and Songs from Napuka” by Kenneth P. Emory.
  8. “Dance and the Interpretation of Pacific Traditional Literature” by Adrienne L. Kaeppler.
  9.  “Some Extra-Oceanic Affinities of Polynesian Narratives” by Bacil F. Kirtley.
  10.  “Dualism in Trobriand Culture” by David B. Eyde.
  11.  “Horatio Alger in New Guinea” by Ben R. Finney.
  12.  “I Watu Gunung: A Balinese Calendrical Myth” by Jack H. Ward.
  13.  “A Functional Interpretation of Bajau Songs” by H. Arlo Nimmo.
  14.  “Gossip Among the Philippine Oligarchy: Some Tender Hypotheses” by Richard L. Stone.
  15.  “Folk Traditions and Interethnic Relations in Northeastern Luzon, Philippines” by Jean Treloggen Peterson.
  16.  “Type Indexing the Folk Narrative” by Hiroko Ikeda.

ISBN: 0910240205, 352 pages, bibliographies, index.

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The Pele Literature.   An Annotated Bibliography of the English-Language Literature on Pele, Volcano Goddess of Hawaii. 1992. Honolulu: Bishop Museum Press.

The Pele Literature: An Annotated Bibliography of the English-Language Literature on Pele, Volcano Goddess of HawaiiThis annotated bibliography evolved from a series of articles H. Arlo Nimmo published about Pele, volcano goddess of Hawaii. Of all the deities of traditional Hawaii, none has so successfully survived the post-contact period as Pele. The extensive and varied English language literature about Pele includes observations by early European visitors, writings of the first literate Hawaiians, academic studies, travel accounts, newspaper and magazine articles, and children’s books.

This bibliography contains a preface and over 800 annotated entries about Pele. The Introduction discusses the traditional Pele religion, the traditional Pele mythology, chants about Pele, legends of Pele, etiological tales, children’s stories and contemporary Pele stories.

“This bibliography,” Nimmo writes in the Preface, “is intended for anyone with an interest in Pele – the person who wants to learn more about an ancestral deity, the student who must write a term paper, the scholar interested in investigating the past or present Hawaiian culture, the tourist who wants to know more than was offered on the tour, the teacher who wishes to add a section on Pele to the class curriculum, the applied behavioral scientist who needs to understand the world-view of Hawaii better, the developer who may wonder why some Hawaiians are disturbed at the prospect of geothermal energy plants in the volcano area, and anyone who simply shares my love and respect for the woman of the volcanoes.”

ISBN: 0930897722, 104 pages, index.

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The Songs of Salanda and Other Stories of Sulu. 1994. Seattle: University of Washington Press.

The Songs of Salanda and Other Stories of SuluThis collection of sixteen short stories is H. Arlo Nimmo’s personal exploration of his anthropological fieldwork among the nomadic boat-dwelling Bajau (aka Sama Dilaut) of the southern Philippines. Inspired by people, places and events he encountered, the stories include a misanthropic Chinese fish-buyer, a brother and sister who sell sexual favors to save the family business, an imprisoned young man believed to be possessed by demons, an American GI who senses his impending death in the battlefields of Vietnam, and a Muslim pirate rebelling against the Christian Philippine government.

ISBN: 0295973358, 237 pages.

Winner of 1994 Philippines National Book Award for Social Sciences.

Awarded 1994 Certificate of Merit “in recognition of excellence in concept, design and manufacturing” by Bookbuilders West.

The Songs of Salanda has a Philippine English-language edition as well as editions in Japanese and Malay.

“Aside from being well written, engaging and entertaining, this book is an important chronicle of a time and place that are gone forever.” The Guardsman

“Nimmo’s language is honestly crafted, and as the book progresses, the writing becomes more poetic . . . A fascinating journey to another culture, place, and time.” Kirkus Reviews

“This is a fascinating book and a very enjoyable read . . . The book’s narrative style is marked by a very spare, concise prose that in its neatness, and relative lack of complex literary narrative convention, conveys the impression of a personable but rather detached narrator.” Pacific Affairs

The Songs of Salanda [is] drawn on images summoned deep from the well of memory . . . In his book [Nimmo] sheds the constraints of academic writing to offer colorful vignettes of life at the edge of perpetual summer.   While Mr. Nimmo’s ingenuous prose can be workmanlike, its lucid candor creates the spell he desires.” The New York Times

The Songs of Salanda is an exceptional book for Philippine studies and a uniquely successful work of ethnographic fiction . . . [W]hether judged by the standards of cultural anthropology or by those of literature, this is a remarkable and admirable book. The prose throughout is concise, unpretentious, and frequently brilliant in its descriptive effects. The text achieves a narrative realism that would spark the envy of the best interpretive ethnographer.” Pilipinas

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Magosaha: An Ethnography of the Tawi-Tawi Sama Dilaut. 2001. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press.

MagosahaMagosaha is a description of the Sama Dilaut traditional culture Nimmo encountered when he began his research in the 1960s. Topics covered include material culture, economics, social organization, religion and arts. A final chapter discusses the changes that have occurred since Nimmo began his research. The boat-dwelling culture described in this book no longer exists in the Philippines; consequently, this book documents a bygone chapter in Philippine history and ethnography.

ISBN: 9715503691, 261 pages, 59 photos, 4 maps, 10 tables, 10 drawings, appendix, bibliography, index.

Winner of 2002 Social Science Gintong Aklat Award for Excellence by the Book Development Association of the Philippines.

“This is a wonderful book, a comprehensive and well-written ethnographic account that records for future generations the rich cultural and material practices of a people whose culture is no longer with us due to rapid changes brought to the Philippines by global processes from colonial times to present.”  The Journal of Asian Studies

“H. Arlo Nimmo has produced another invaluable book for all readers interested in Philippine culture and the ethnic traditions of the southern Philippines.   He writes extremely well with an engaging style that helps the reader move comfortably through a great deal of complex scholarly information.  He has a sensitive eye for detail yet never loses sight of the wider context of his subject matter.  He is clearly a man who can write both from the heart and with the highly trained mind of a social scientist.”   Philippine Studies

Magosaha . . . is a well-written and comprehensive account of the Sama Dilaut’s history and culture [and] represents not only a valuable contribution to existing scholarship on the Sama Dilaut, but also a precious record of a way of life that is now virtually extinct.”  Pilipinas

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The Andrews Sisters. A Biography and Career Record. 2004. Jefferson and London: McFarland & Company, Inc.

The Andrews Sisters. A Biography and Career RecordThe Andrews Sisters, the legendary singing trio from the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, are the most successful female singing group in history and were the world’s top-selling group until the Beatles arrived.   Of the 605 songs they recorded, 113 made The Billboard’s weekly top 30.   They also made 18 movies, appeared regularly on radio and television, and entertained three generations of GIs.

Based on extensive library research, unpublished letters and interviews with family, friends and colleagues, H. Arlo Nimmo’s book documents not only the lives of Patty, Maxene and LaVerne Andrews but also the popular culture spanned by their long careers in vaudeville, records, radio, movies, television and club appearances. The book contains a complete discography of their released, unreleased and solo recordings including recording dates, record numbers and accompaniment.   Also included are a filmography and documentation of their radio and television appearances.

ISBN: 0786417315, 526 pages, 108 photos, 5 appendices, bibliography, index.

Finalist. 2005 Award for Best Research in Recorded Popular Music. Association for Recorded Sound Collections (ARSC) Awards for Excellence in Historical Recorded Sound Research.

“The author . . . really did his homework in researching and writing this book . . . For those interested in the definitive reference on the Andrews Sisters, to fans interested in learning about their fascinating career, this is the book.” Catholic Library World

“Using an anthropological method and approach, Nimmo . . . provides a chronological narrative . . .  with a concern for accuracy that makes this the definitive ‘record’ of the Andrews Sisters’ personal and professional lives.”  Choice Reviews

“The author’s awesome amount of research solidifies this book as the definitive work on the musical trio . . .  The author not only helps us know their music better than ever, but also their personalities . . . All and all, this is a tremendously significant and perceptive volume, and essential reading for Andrews Sisters devotees.”  Classic Images

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Good and Bad Times in a San Francisco Neighborhood. 2007. San Francisco: October Properties. 

Good and Bad Times in a San Francisco NeighborhoodThis book explores the history of Duboce Park and Potomac Street, a small park and short street in the Lower Haight neighborhood of San Francisco.   Part One, “History,” discusses the origins of the park and street as well as changes in the neighborhood from 1899 to 2007. The data utilized include San Francisco city documents, United States census reports, newspaper stories, interviews with longtime residents and H. Arlo Nimmo’s observations during thirty-five years’ residence on Potomac Street. Part Two, “Musings and Memories,” is a journal of personal observations recorded by Nimmo during his long residence in the neighborhood. Although the history of this neighborhood is unique, in many ways it is a microcosm of the surrounding neighborhoods, the city of San Francisco and the urban history of the United States. A Revised Edition released in 2016 (ISBN# 9781534686052) includes an Afterword that discusses changes in the neighborhood since the original publication of this book in 2007.

ISBN: 9780981450902, 124 pages, 18 photos, 1 map, 6 tables.

ISBN: 9781534686052, 137 pages, 18 photos, 1 map, 6 tables.

“[This] book is a charming narrative and an excellent addition to the archives of neighborhood history.” Newsletter of the San Francisco Museum and Historical Society

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Pele, Volcano Goddess of Hawai´i. A History. 2011. Jefferson and London: McFarland & Company, Inc. 

Pele Volcano Goddess of Hawaii. A HistoryThis book is a biography of the Hawaiian volcano goddess Pele and a history of her religion. It is intended for the general reader but H. Arlo Nimmo has cited his sources for those who wish to pursue further investigation. The book is based on the English-language literature about Pele, including translations from Hawaiian and European languages. The first three chapters discuss the traditional literature and religion of Pele. Subsequent chapters discuss the ongoing belief in Pele in post-contact Hawai´i, including her manifestations, her ceremonies, her new roles, her alleged “curse” and her current religion. Appendices include “Siblings of Pele,” “Places in the Hawaiian Islands Visited by Pele” and “Epithets for Pele.”

ISBN: 9780786463473, 239 pages, 19 photos, 3 maps, 3 appendices, bibliography, index.

The following reviews were written for LibraryThing: Early Reviewers. (www.librarything.com)

For fans of Hawaii, anthropology and mythology, this book is a jewel of information. . . . H. Arlo Nimmo’s thoroughly researched book offers fare for both the casual reader and the anthropologist. . . For those of us without a scholarly bent, it is a fascinating read. . . I definitely recommend this book!  Nulla (Feb 19, 2012)

A well-researched and enjoyable survey of beliefs and practices concerning the goddess Pele. The author begins with a good discussion of the traditional mythologies and religion of the islands, and proceeds through early-contact accounts, to 20th-century attitudes . . .  I found the concluding chapter on Madame Pele’s new cultural roles, and the resurgence of indigenous religion both interesting and heartening.  Rowntree (Jan 30, 2012)

This is an interesting book on several levels. It is anthropology of Pele worship in Hawai’i. It is a biography of the goddess Pele, with a family tree and history of their travels over the Pacific Ocean. . . An interesting and well documented read, and I do recommend this for all personal and library collections of Hawai’i and Pacific Island cultures.  hadden (Jan 30, 2012)

WOW! I just finished reading the book . . . and am more than impressed . . . Customs as diverse as not bragging and sexuality are explained by the myths . . . Other cultural norms, such as the unviability of promises, the importance of chants and hula dance, and the injunction not to be lazy or arrogant are explained in the mythology . . . The second half of the book is weaker, being mainly bibliographic notations of Pele sightings, writings and art about Pele and the commercialization of the religion . . .  the writing is concrete and clear.  Bidwell-Glaze (Dec 31, 2012)

Pele, Volcano Goddess of Hawai’i: A History is overall a wonderful resource for those interested in or studying less mainstream mythologies. . . . However, I found that it took quite some effort to get through the first half of the book. Though well researched, it sometimes felt as if every single sentence was accompanied by a citation . . . That being said, I thoroughly enjoyed the second half of Nimmo’s monograph. Here were the much more human stories–urban legends about Pele as a “vanishing hitchhiker,” tales of environmental protests to protect the deified land, and accounts of how the Pele religion has been woven throughout Hawaiian culture, up to contemporary times. thedharmabum51 (Feb 19, 2012)

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A Very Far Place.  Tales of Tawi-Tawi.  2012.  Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press.

A Very Far Place Tales of Tawi-TawiThis collection of nine interrelated short stories is a sequel to The Songs of Salanda, a fictionalized exploration of H. Arlo Nimmo’s anthropological fieldwork among the nomadic boat-dwelling Bajau (aka Sama Dilaut) of the southern Philippines in the mid-1960s.  Inspired by some of the people, places and events he encountered during those years, the stories include an American man searching for a father he never knew, a Filipino man seeking beauty and comfort denied him in Manila, the tragic ill-fated voyage of a young family, a broken American expat who finds solace in classical music, a Jewish woman and a German man who carry their mutual enmity to the other side of the world, a teen-age couple divided by their families’ feud and a strange house on a river filled with dead animals. Although the stories are set in a faraway place and a distant time, their themes resonate in the here and now.

ISBN: 9789715506571, 237 pages.

Finalist.  2013 Philippines National Book Award for short fiction.

“H. Arlo Nimmo writes about his years living in the Philippines’ southernmost province so affectionately (in this book and his previous one, The Songs of Salanda) that one can’t help but be shamed by how little we know of that bucolic place and its lovely people.”  Gemma Nemenzo – Positively Filipino

“The no-frills writing [of A Very Far Place] is journalistic rather than poetic. There are many interesting stories that could have been made more heartfelt. Had this book been written by a Filipino writer, I would have shed a tear or two. Maybe that was Nimmo’s style being an anthropologist and an American who experienced World War II when he was a toddler. . . . Tawi-Tawi and its environs are the main fare in the book. The tales are basically set prior to the armed religious conflict that started in the early 70’s. There are many memorable characters (the pregnant woman, the dead child and the father who committed suicide are far mind-lingering followed by the Mr. Bob the American mechanic playing classical music at night) and events that made me want to pack my bag and go Tawi-Tawi for myself. Although Nimmo made a disclaimer that the events and characters are his imaginings, I know the place is still there. I just added this to my bucket list and I will make sure that it will be the next place in Mindanao that my family and I will visit.”  K. D. Absolutely – Goodreads

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Before Summer.  2013.  Chicago: Prairie Avenue Productions.

Before SummerBefore Summer is a collection of sixteen interrelated short stories about a gay youth’s coming of age in small‑town Iowa during the 1940s and 1950s. The book is an affec­tionate and sometimes sorrowful portrait of a bygone way of life in a small Iowa farming town and what it was like growing up gay in such a community.

The first story is set in 1940 when the narrator, Lach MacLennan, is seven years old and the final one in 1956 when he graduates from college. One story takes place on an army base during World War II and three are set on a college campus; all the others are in the fictional town of Tools Rock that serves as backdrop for the narra­tion. In some stories, Lach is the central character, but in others he is an observer of other people and the events of their lives.

Each story explores Lach’s youth as he realizes and comes to terms with his sexuality and the restrictions as well as the possibili­ties of his life.

ISBN: 978-1548929725, 218 pages.

“These beautifully crafted stories are a perfect, but not fluffy, summer read.”  OutSmart Magazine

“In a time when fantasy and cyberspace rule millions of 21st-century folks, anthropologist and writer H. Arlo Nimmo gives us a book of stories that is as real as life and as admirable as love . . . Nimmo’s stories are beautifully written and charming. His writing style, with its concise and non-affected language, creates stories that rest on the border between fiction and non-fiction/memoir. Not a thriller in the conventional sense, the book is no less than a page-turner . . . These stories are for anyone who loves good literature and wants to see the way the written word is skillfully handled by a talented author.” Portland Book Review

“Before Summer is an excellent collection of coming-of-age short stories that adopts an unusual format in describing the life of one Lachlan McLennan . . .  Each story stands well alone but adds to the overall profile of Lach – which is one of the delights of H. Arlo Nimmo’s book. It’s rare to see the short story format used so deftly: the strength of the short story to build up not only the protagonist’s profile but the lives and concerns of those close to him makes for a rare opportunity to delve into the psyches of all concerned; not just the protagonist’s viewpoint . . . What this means is that the stories center as much upon those who influence and touch his life as upon the evolution of Lach himself as he becomes not just a ‘gay person’ but a gentle man . . . By eschewing emotional drama in favor of mild evolutionary processes, H. Arlo Nimmo provides a moving series of explorations and encounters which (taken individually) fill in the daily nuances of people’s lives and which (taken together) create an overall portrait not just of Lach’s growth, but of the community’s interactions as a whole . . . In the end it’s not only Lach that evolves; it’s the reader. All achieved here, in Before Summer, with deft, accomplished creations of plot and character that make the short story format (like a well-done painting that looks simple but layers complexity into its subject) simply shine.” D. Donovan, Donovan’s Bookshelf, Midwest Book Review

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Night Train and Other Stories.  2017.  San Francisco: October Properties.

night-train-and-other-stories-coverNight Train and Other Stories is a collection of thirteen short stories told by an anthropologist narrator and set in locales around the world.  Among the characters and events appearing in the stories are a ship that mysteriously disappears in the South Pacific, a renowned anthropologist who finds her Shangri La in the New Guinea highlands, a middle-aged American couple who briefly discover enlightenment in India, a freighter ship that loses an unpopular passenger in the mid-Pacific, a quartet of passengers traveling by overnight train from Prague to Berlin, a Polynesian man from the South Pacific and his flirtation with America, an out-of-body experience on the Solo River in Java and a San Francisco New Year’s Eve party with an assortment of strangely quiet guests.  The stories cover a time span of approximately sixty years and some of them incorporate historical events such as the Battle of the Bulge, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the Holocaust.

ISBN-10: 154246854X, 216 pages.

“As readers wind through Night Train and Other Stories, they come to realize that these vignettes are slices of life that transcend either autobiography or literature, presenting a relentless train ride through connections lost and found. These stories capture marvelous slices of life that depict the intersection between personal experience and lives changed by circumstance and political affairs. They chart solitary journeys, encounters with other cultures, small acts of kindnesses between strangers, and conundrums of survival, duty, and choice.With the relentless staccato progression of a rail ride, Night Train and Other Stories takes ordinary encounters and considers the roots of their happiness and sorrow, paralleling their lasting impact with past and present evolutionary processes. Readers of short stories who enjoy vignettes that pack in-the-moment emotion into deeper considerations of social justice and political affairs will find these well-seasoned stories just the ticket.” D. Donovan, Recommended Reading, Donovan’s Literary Services

“Night Train by H. Arlo Nimmo is a compilation of thirteen short stories written from an anthropologist’s perspective . . . about various characters in unusual and exotic locations. The stories take the reader through many eras and locales and show the views of those times in fascinating character studies. Explore the world from times gone by; the beginning of World War Two, a flash of the Seventies, and a small taste of the Holocaust. Experience the prejudice surrounding Germany a year after The Wall came down. Travel the high seas with a writer and solve the mysterious disappearance of an abusive old man on a freighter. With many adventures and colorful locations, this book takes the reader on the journey of a lifetime . . . I liked how the stories focused on either a particular person or situation; by the end of the story the reader has learned something new. I found these stories to be more of life or human studies than just short story fiction. Each chapter has the reader peeling back another layer of understanding into humanity. I could easily see this book being used as a teaching tool, although, I must warn the reader that there is some subject matter that isn’t appropriate for children under eighteen due to some explicit LGBTQ content. I would recommend this book to those that are interested in anthropology and historical fiction.” Reviewed By Alyssa Elmore for Readers’ Favorite

“Night Train and Other Stories is a collection of short stories . . . narrated by an anthropologist as he travels throughout the world . . . Each tale in this marvelous collection is a treat to read . . . Night Train and Other Stories offers brief, beguiling and timeless looks into other cultures as well as into those oddities that are still inherent in what is considered the ‘dominant’ culture, all seen dispassionately by the anthropologist and shared minutely with his audience. I found mystery, adventure and romance hidden within these pages, and even caught a few glimpses of the spirit behind the writing.” Reviewed by Jack Magnus for Readers’ Favorite

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