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Yaya’s Story

The Quest for Well-Being in the World

Yaya’s Story

The Quest for Well-Being in the World

Yaya’s Story is a book about Yaya Harouna, a Songhay trader originally from Niger who found a path to America. It is also a book about Paul Stoller—its author—an American anthropologist who found his own path to Africa. Separated by ethnicity, language, profession, and culture, these two men’s lives couldn’t be more different. But when they were both threatened by a grave illness—cancer—those differences evaporated, and the two were brought to profound existential convergence, a deep camaraderie in the face of the most harrowing of circumstances. Yaya’s Story is that story.
Harouna and Stoller would meet in Harlem, at a bustling African market where Harouna built a life as an African art trader and Stoller was conducting research. Moving from Belayara in Niger to Silver Spring, Maryland, and from the Peace Corps to fieldwork to New York, Stoller recounts their separate lives and how the threat posed by cancer brought them a new, profound, and shared sense of meaning. Combining memoir, ethnography, and philosophy through a series of interconnected narratives, he tells a story of remarkable friendship and the quest for well-being. It’s a story of difference and unity, of illness and health, a lyrical reflection on human resiliency and the shoulders we lean on.    

176 pages | 17 halftones | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 | © 2014

African Studies

Anthropology: Cultural and Social Anthropology

Biography and Letters

Culture Studies


“Stoller’s Yaya’s Story: The Quest for Well-being in the World is a richly textured, ethnographic tale of the intertwining, ‘existential convergences’ of two men’s lives. This is a story with the power to linger, a story of ‘mutual understandings,’ intimate bonds, and the virtues of moral intelligence. . . . Writing against the scholarly grain, Stoller has produced a text that enchants. Over the course of a few pages the reader is brought to places and times that are in the same moment both wounded and spectacular, diverse and engaging. . . . Whether interested in a study of well-being, of transnational African traders, of spirit possession, of anthropology, or simply of the friendship of two very different men, Yaya’s Story is a book offering much to a wide readership. It is without doubt a book with a soul.”

LSE Review of Books

Yaya’s Story is not only highly original, it is emotionally engaging and profound. Stoller reveals the tensions between the yearning for meaningful relationships in Niger and the clinical care afforded by New York City. In so doing he demonstrates just how complex is the creation of well-being in the modern world. Above all we watch him learn what he shares with Yaya—how both the experience of cancer and an enduring friendship create new spaces where hope and deep meaning can emerge. This is a truly remarkable book by a most gifted storyteller.”

A. David Napier, author of Making Things Better

“Stoller is anthropology’s master storyteller, and Yaya’s Story is his latest master tale of fieldwork, friendship, and the anthropologist’s quest for meaning. In smart, accessible prose, he introduces a fascinating transnational world from Niger to New York that is at once familiar and strange, moving and enlightening. Including Stoller’s own, multiple life stories grace the pages of this book that reveal the itch of restlessness, the power of sorcery, the loneliness of illness, and the elation of well-being in social life.”

Alisse Waterston, author of My Father’s Wars: Migration, Memory, and the Violence of a Century

“For almost thirty years Stoller has been in the vanguard of a movement to make anthropology answerable to life as lived, to construe ethnographic praxis as a vision quest rather than simply an exercise in instrumental reason, and to make ethnography accessible, reflexive, and critical. Yaya’s Story exemplifies all these hallmarks of Stoller’s project and brings home to us the enduring value of engaging the lifeworlds of others with soul as well as intellect, as apprentices as well as interpreters, so that, at the end of the day, our work may attest to remarkable ‘existential convergences’ and ‘mutual understandings’ that partially eclipse radical cultural, circumstantial, and linguistic differences.”

Michael Jackson, author of The Wherewithal of Life: Ethics, Migration and the Question of Well-Being.

Table of Contents


Prologue: The Story of Yaya’s Story

1    Belayara
2    Three Brothers and the Work of Art
3    New York City and Transnational Trade

4    Silver Spring
5    Stumbling into Anthropology in Niger
6    New York City, Immigration, and the Warehouse

7    The Shadow of Sickness
8    Three Years in the Shadows
9    A Remarkable Convergence

Epilogue: The Quest for Well-Being in the World


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