Trish's Reviews > The Tenth Parallel: Dispatches from the Fault Line Between Christianity and Islam

The Tenth Parallel by Eliza Griswold
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's review
Jul 20, 2011

it was ok
bookshelves: put-aside, africa, asia, audio, foreign-affairs, mideast, nonfiction, political-science, politics, war, religion
Read from July 20 to 28, 2011

The concept of this book is a fascinating one: the Tenth Parallel, which runs around the earth 700 miles north of the equator, could be thought of as the dividing line between warring religions. Griswold makes the point that north of the tenth parallel, the Arab/Muslim religion and culture largely holds sway, while below, in Africa at least, Christian and indigenous religions mix. She has put her finger on a critically important subject and has found an area of the world where that divide can be witnessed within one country.

Griswold is the daughter of Frank Griswold, former bishop of the Episcopal Church. She travelled with her family in Africa and later as a journalist in the entourage of Bill Graham. Her background, therefore, informs her interest in the religious divide, and we may assume she brings both experience and a certain amount of access with her history. She doesn’t, however, have an obvious religious bias, but points out abuses, overstepping, political purpose, and overweening personal aggrandizement on both sides of the religious divide. She makes important points: changes in climatic conditions on the continent in Africa are forcing a mixing of religious cultures that have been traditionally separate; poverty and famine are exacerbating religious conflicts; both sides are eagerly trying to gain converts through political and economic means.

Having given credit to Griswold for staking out an important area of the world, the sub-Saharan region of Nigeria, Somalia, and Ethiopia, I had to leave half this book unread (I had the audio version) because of the diffuse and fractured manner of presentation. I note the author is a poet as well as a journalist. There was, perhaps, a little too much description of local color. Griswold’s descriptions distracted me from the points she was trying to make. (I have an indelible picture of Billy Graham’s ostrich-skin boots, and the house and face of a Somalian religious warlord.)

Griswold travelled to remote and dangerous sites to conduct interviews, but somehow what she came away with was less impressive than her getting there and back in one piece. There may have been too much running around and too little analysis in this account. I couldn’t help but feel this was one reporter who had the instincts for an important story, but was unnecessarily kinetic in her pursuit of it. There is always a wide audience for a tight analysis of a conflict area, with historical elements woven in. The audio reading was very fast (and the reader, Tavia Gilbert, has a disconcertingly young-sounding voice), but I began to suspect I was getting the same material again and again. I even checked my discs to make sure I was going forward rather than backwards. This could have used a far less indulgent editor, and instead have given us a pinpointed analysis that doesn’t get buried with fact-slinging.

I am curious now why this was recommended by someone at Politics and Prose, the independent bookstore in Washington, D.C. While the subject is undoubtedly an important one, the narrative cannot rank with the best.
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Reading Progress

25.0% "This is an odd one. The auhtor may be a frustrated novelist. Trying to bring in "color", she may obscure the main points. This is Nigeria, a fascinating subject. Must listen more closely, as I feel I am being pulled various directions with the narrative."
40.0% "Daughter of a minister, travelling with Billy Graham's entourage...but doesn't seem biased. Curious."
04/05 marked as: put-aside

Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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message 1: by Susan (new) - added it

Susan This one sounded like it would be interesting, but if you didn't finish it, there is no hope for my making my way through it.

(The "like" button is being crotchety at the moment. I wonder if the comment box is throwing a temper tantrum as well. Will soon find out.)

Trish I don't want to stop anyone from reading it. It does highlight such an important area of the world. ONe thing I didn't mention in the review that was interesting: the American evangelical Chritian movement has a white paper written on this tenth parallel division: it has a very high-end proselytizing plan for converting so many Muslims and non-Christians by such and such a time.

message 3: by Susan (new) - added it

Susan I think I'll put it on my TBR just to keep it on my radar. If I get around to reading it, it might be one to read rather than listen to. Then I can skim through the parts that seem too repetitious. I don't do well with audio books unless they are light ones. My mind wanders too much when my eyes aren't engaged.

Trish Yes, you can only be doing something that requires no attention. I have a craft or two that, once major decisions are made, there is little to engage the mind. Without audio books, I would never get my housework done, for instance.

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