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Parallel Worlds

An Anthropologist and a Writer Encounter Africa

This suspenseful and moving memoir of Africa recounts the experiences of Alma Gottlieb, an anthropologist, and Philip Graham, a fiction writer, as they lived in two remote villages in the rain forest of Cote d’Ivoire. With an unusual coupling of first-person narratives, their alternate voices tell a story imbued with sweeping narrative power, humility, and gentle humor. Parallel Worlds is a unique look at Africa, anthropological fieldwork, and the artistic process.

"A remarkable look at a remote society [and] an engaging memoir that testifies to a loving partnership . . . compelling."—James Idema, Chicago Tribune

343 pages | 2 maps | 6 x 9 | © 1993

Anthropology: Cultural and Social Anthropology


“This is a brave book, particularly for Gottlieb. It is well written and interesting reading. Is it anthropology? In some ways, yes. I now know much more about the Beng, as well as fiction writer, than I did before. More importantly, however, this volume documents the ways that knowledge of the self informs our knowledge of those exposed to a social scientist’s analysis.”

Chris L. Hardin | African Studies Review

“The fine product of a husband-wife partnership conducted in the rain forest of Ivory Coast, Parallel Worlds is a candid and artfully written account of the dilemmas, hazards, and rewards attending ethnographic research. In this perceptive, at times suspenseful and often poignant memoir, anthropologist Alma Gottlieb and fiction writer Philip Graham re-live for us their two stays among the Beng. . . . Perhaps the most valuable message of Parallel Worlds is that there are different paths to knowledge: in Gottlieb’s case, knowledge of the Beng came through constant questioning; in Graham’s case, learning a new culture often took the shape of ‘a novel of manners written in a foreign language.’ . . . The fact that I devoured the book from cover to cover . . . attests to its engaging character. Although interested in the politics of fieldwork and the writing of culture should find this book enjoyable to read and useful to teach.”

Adeline Masquelier | Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

"The book becomes a blend of two very different authors: on the one hand, the story of a writer living amid fascinating subjects for his craft; on the other, the story of a fieldworking anthropologist, striving to find a context in which to describe a unique group of people who live as much among their ghosts and spirits as in the world we know."

Washington Post Book World

Parallel Worlds is an unusual and insightful book coauthored by an anthropologist and her spouse, a writer. The authors chronicle, in an alternating manner, accounts of their three-year sojourn and experiences in Bengland, Cote d’lvoire.”

Jacob Olupona | American Anthropologist

Table of Contents

Map: Cote d’Ivoire
Map: Beng Region
Cast of Characters
Pt. 1: Arriving
1: Premonitions (October 1-November 5, 1979)
2: Choosing a Host (November 6-November 28, 1979)
3: Trespassing (November 29-December 20, 1979)
4: Adrift (December 21, 1979-February 19, 1980)
5: The Elusive Epiphany (February 20-April 30, 1980)
6: Bedazzled, Beleaguered (May 1-June 30, 1980)
7: Divination and Trial (July 1-August 2, 1980)
8: Transgressions (August 3-October 3, 1980)
9: Metamorphoses (October 4, 1980-Spring 1981)
Pt. 2: Returning
10: A Parallel World (June 11-August 13, 1985)

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