Anthropology and narrative nonfiction come together in a fascinating look at life in West Africa.
In a compelling mix of literary narrative and ethnography, anthropologist Alma Gottlieb and writer Philip Graham continue the long journey of cultural engagement with the Beng people of Côte d’Ivoire that they first recounted in their award-winning memoir Parallel Worlds. Their commitment over the span of several decades has lent them a rare insight. Weaving their own stories with those of the villagers of Asagbé and Kosangbé, Gottlieb and Graham take turns recounting a host of unexpected dramas with these West African villages, prompting serious questions about the fraught nature of cultural contact.
Gottlieb and Graham follow the Beng from times of peace to the times of tragedy that led to Côte d’Ivoire’s recent civil conflicts. Through events such as a religious leader’s declaration that the authors’ six-year-old son, Nathaniel, is the reincarnation of a revered ancestor, or Graham’s late father being accepted into the Beng afterlife, the authors are forced to reconcile their anthropological and literary gaze with the deepest parts of their personal lives.
“At this moment in the history of our divided and violent world, we profoundly need to hear the voices of Philip Graham and Alma Gottlieb as they return to the Beng people of the Cote d’Ivoire and write not just about this remarkable people but about the ways that all of us are inextricably “braided” together by our love, through our humanity, sharing the great mystery of existence. Braided Worlds is not only an enthralling book but an important one. And linked with Graham and Gottlieb’s earlier Parallel Worlds, the two books form a masterpiece of travel memoir.”-- Robert Olen Butler, author of A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain
Alma Gottlieb is professor of anthropology at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. She is also the coeditor of A World of Babies: Imagined Childcare Guides for Seven Societies.
Philip Graham is the author of two short story collections, The Art of the Knock and Interior Design, and a novel, How to Read an Unwritten Language. He teaches at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and the Vermont College of Fine Arts.