What’s Eating You? People and Parasites by Eugene H Kaplan - review by David Profumo

David Profumo

Bathroom Safari

What’s Eating You? People and Parasites

By

Princeton University Press 302pp £18.95
 

The first book I ever reviewed for Auberon Waugh (late of this parish) was entitled A Dictionary of Disgusting Facts, and he was thrilled because it coincided with his policy of getting the words ‘Sex’ and ‘Filth’ onto the cover whenever possible. At that time I was working on a (still unfinished) cacademic treatise called ‘Anus Mirabilis’, an anthro-scatological survey of the importance of excretion and hygiene in human culture: I was therefore steeped in notions of what different people find revolting. How come the Zuni Indians perform a Urine Dance and consume faeces, but are forbidden to mention the word takka, meaning frog (having instead to say: ‘several-are-sitting-in-a-shallow-basin-where-they-are-in-liquid’)? The Bakairi abominate eating in public, yet the Dayaks happily drain off corpse fluids and mix them with their rice at funerals. Each to his own. But in two decades I have not had the pleasure of appraising such a repulsive volume as What’s Eating You? I heartily commend it to all LR readers.

The thirty chapters of Professor Eugene H Kaplan’s study all read like punchy little fables about different aspects of parasitology. He describes it as ‘a compendium of lurid stories’ designed to catch his students’ attention over the years – ‘a thread runs through them’, he adds, in an

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