cover image Parallel Worlds: An Anthropologist and a Writer Encounter Africa

Parallel Worlds: An Anthropologist and a Writer Encounter Africa

Alma Gottlieb. Crown Publishers, $22 (324pp) ISBN 978-0-517-58342-5

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. (Apr.)