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Parallel Worlds: An Anthropologist and a Writer Encounter Africa Reprint Edition

4.3 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0226305066
ISBN-10: 0226305066
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In 1979 and 1980, anthropologist Gottlieb and her husband, Graham, a fiction writer, lived among the Beng people in a remote rain forest in the Ivory Coast. Alternating perspectives from each author, this sensitive, suspenseful and delicately textured narrative is a "candid memoir of the couple's pain and joy." As Gottlieb queries villagers from her anthropologist's perspective, Graham sees a metaphor for their new life: "a novel of manners written in a foreign language." But gaining the villagers' trust is difficult for Gottlieb; only after she fires her recalcitrant translator does she learn that the villagers had resolved not to reveal important matters. Ultimately, she finds a confidante, gains entree into Beng society and confronts unimagined rituals. Graham likens the village intrigues to the work of Garcia Marquez and even to the dynamics of American small towns; in retrospect he considers himself "an ethnographer of my own imagination." Gottlieb and Graham teach, respectively, anthropology and creative writing at the University of Illinois.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

In the West African rain forest of the Ivory Coast, the two authors studied the complex social life and traditional animist religion of Kosangbe and Asagbe, two small Beng villages of the M'Bahiakro region. During their 15-month research project (1979-81), Gottlieb and Graham had to overcome both disease and rejection by the villagers, thus experiencing the problems as well as the rewards of ethnographic fieldwork. Armenan, their helpful informant, agreed to disclose the secret meanings behind the thoughts and rituals of the suspicious and argumentative villagers. The authors consider such issues as kinship, language, divination, trials, sacrifices, childbirths, weddings, and funerals. They also pay special attention to taboos, witchcraft, sorcery, and the pervasive influence of spirits from an invisible world. A book of unusual candor, Parallel Worlds offers a unique introduction to Africa. Recommended for all anthropology collections.
- H. James Birx, Canisius Coll., Buffalo, N.Y.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 343 pages
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press; Reprint edition (November 1, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226305066
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226305066
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,028,556 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Parallel Worlds provides unique insights not only into the world of the Beng, but into the challenging experience of a writer and an anthropologist trying to fit in and to understand an unfamiliar culture. The two alternating voices are interwoven to create a narrative of the couple's years in the Cote d'Ivoire that allow the book to transcend categorization as strictly creative non-fiction or anthropology. Graham's passages are filled with the quiet and distinctive prose that categorizes his work as a short story writer and a novelist. Gottlieb's sections are filled with insights as she learns more about the Beng, often through complicated backward and forward steps as mistakes are made, discovered, and corrected. For readers unfamiliar with African culture, this book provides a beautiful but ultimately real portrait of Beng life as the writers become more and more part of the villiage existance. But perhaps the most interesting thread of the narrative is the gradual process of the familiar turning strange, of America existing as a paralell and unfamiliar world viewed from a distance.
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By A Customer on August 4, 1999
Format: Paperback
Wow! Do you know what CRITTERS grow in the legs of some rural African people and whether or not you could endure helping the people remove them? Would you be able to stand eating BITTER and PASTY GRUEL and yams at every meal? This book helps you answer your own questions about personal tolerance. It forces you to think about cultural differences and ask yourself whether or not you could live in parallel worlds if you had to.
If you're looking for a great fiction story, this is not it! Rather, it is an interesting anthropological STUDY which was meant to inform, enlighten and interest. If you are ignorant about the difference between genres, then you have no right to complain about the book!
I particularly found the contrasting writing styles from chapter to chapter very refreshing. The wife, an anthropologist, writes from her perspective in a thorough (scientific) way and in alternating chapters, her husband, a fiction writer (How to Read an Unwritten Language--GREAT, by the way), offers a unique look at the Beng society through the eyes of the creative author and all-American guy next door.
I couldn't wait to read the information toward the end of the book about the trip back to the village and what became of the different Beng people later on.
This book should definitely be required for beginning social anthropology courses because it integrates a traditional ethnography with the perspective of a creative writer. In other words, it has very valid anthropology, yet will still engage the student! I can't tell you how many BORING ethnographies I read in Anthro 105 years ago when I was in college!!! I wish I had been assigned Parallel Worlds first to help me bridge the gap.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
When this book was first assigned for a Novels and Ethnography course, I was less than enthused. Something about it, on a superficial level, did not instantly connect with my interest. However, upon getting to only the second page, I realized this work was something special. Gottlieb and Graham, an anthropologist and writer (married) share with readers their experience in Africa's Cote de Ivoire. They travel there together to live among the Beng and to study their traditional culture, but come away with much, much more. At first shunned for their western peculiarities, Alma and Philip are finally accepted and adopted into the village life. They stay for 15 months before returning to the U.S. The end of the book also shares a return to Kosangbe (their village of choice) after having spent five years at home missing the community they left behind.
This work is a fabulous look at the ways in which cultures interact and the ways in which truths can easily (and usually unintentionally) become fictions. Through this work, it is easy to see that cultures, which at first seem starkly contrasted, are not so different after all.
While it covers real research done by Gottlieb for her doctoral dissertation, the entire work reads like a very intricately involved novel. It is nothing if not "user friendly." Each chapter is alternated between wife (anthropologist) and husband (writer). Interestingly enough, their voices are very similar, yet with different concerns and nuances.
If you have enjoyed Kingsolver's Poisonwood Bible and/or Conrad's Heart of Darkness, you will certainly enjoy this work.

For anyone interested in cultural studies, or simply a fantastic, engaging read, this book is a must. I could not recommend it more highly.
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By A Customer on October 23, 2002
Format: Paperback
I've used this book in two classes on the anthropology of religion, and the students love it. The anthropologist wife writes in a way they're familiar with from other ethnographies, and the husband in lovely prose. I think students react so well because the authors aren't afraid to write about their screw-ups, defeats, and fears. I use this as the first book in the semester, BEFORE I send students out into the field. It lets them know that they can do this scary thing called fieldwork and still be themselves.
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