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Book Bag


By Eliza Griswold

Farrar, Straus and Giroux


Journalist and poet Eliza Griswold draws the title of her acclaimed 2010 book from the line of latitude 700 miles north of the equator, a fault line along which large segments of the Muslim and Christian worlds meet — and frequently clash. From Nigeria, Sudan and Somalia in Africa, to Indonesia and the Philippines in southeast Asia, Griswold travels through some of the world’s most contentious spots to examine the connections between religion and politics.

Griswold, a regular contributor to Harper’s, The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly and other periodicals, is herself the daughter of a leading Episcopal bishop in Chicago, and she uses her own conflicted attitude toward religion to help frame her book. For in the seven years she spent researching “The Tenth Parallel,” Griswold met many people for whom Christianity and Islam is the very essence of their being.

“I am ready to die for my faith,” says a Nigerian Christian minister, called Pastor J in the book, who relates how he once killed a Muslim man with an axe — in self-defense, he says — after violence erupted between Muslims and Christians in the town of Jos. “I am thankful for 9/11,” Pastor J adds. “If it had not happened, the United States would have been in the dark about the Muslim world.”

Griswold also examines how climate change may be hastening religious conflict in these regions, as drought, floods and other extreme weather events threaten crops and water supplies in vulnerable ecosystems, intensifying the struggle for limited resources. Muslim-Christian violence also flares over valuable resources like oil, particularly in Nigeria, the source of 20 percent of America’s oil supply.

In addition, “The Tenth Parallel” looks at the tangled colonial history of Africa and Asia, pointing out how European colonizers helped exacerbate interfaith tensions by drawing arbitrary boundaries that had little to do with cultural and ethnic realities. The British, for instance, set up their former colony of Sudan by establishing the tenth parallel as a partition between the Islamic north and Christian south.

In the best tradition of travel writers, Griswold brings to life the people she talks to and communities she visits, like a Nigerian village that’s been devastated by a flood during the rainy season: “Low white mist shrouded the escarpments and burst open into midday deluges ... [that] turned the red roads into cataracts. ... Two men were fixing a bicycle; the others were sipping from gourds filled with home brew. The only thing to do was drink, and they weaved around the village, dazed with loss.”

“The Tenth Parallel,” one reviewer says, is “ingeniously conceived and beautifully wrought. ... Griswold gives us a rare look at how complex and interwoven these two cultures actually are.”

Eliza Griswold will speak at Hampshire College Sept. 25 at 7 p.m. as part of the college’s third annual Immanuel-Grace lecture series. The presentation, held in Franklin-Patterson Hall, is free and open to the public.

AMERICA’S TWO-HEADED PIG: Treating Nutritional Deficiencies and Disease In a Genetically Modified, Antibiotic Resistant and Pesticide Dependent World

By Leah Dunham and Arthur Dunham



Among the many problems affecting our country’s food supply, one of the most pressing is the ever-expanding size of corporate-controlled agricultural operations that stress mass production of a limited number of crops and livestock. That’s the theme animating “America’s Two-Head Pig,” a book by a daughter and father who have a close connection to farming.

Leah Dunham, the principal author, is an Easthampton resident and middle school science teacher who grew up in Iowa and previously worked as a veterinary assistant and farm laborer. Her father, Arthur Dunham, is a veterinarian who works with large farm animals in Iowa. Leah Dunham has taken her father’s extensive research into the underlying causes of animal aliments and turned his notes into their shared book.

As Leah Dunham writes, both father and daughter are appalled by what agribusiness has done to their native state. Whereas small and medium-sized farms there once produced a variety of goods — beef and dairy cows, pigs, horses, alfalfa, corn, oats, rye and wheat — the landscape is now largely restricted to a few monoculture crops and “factory farms,” or concentrated animal feeding operations, in part because of what they say are misguided federal policies.

“The way to make money here is clear,” Dunham writes. “You can plant corn, raise soybeans, or pack thousands of animals into one confinement facility. Do anything that is not backed by a contract or supported by federal policies and you might as well commit yourself to a life of poverty.”

“America’s Two-Headed Pig” — the title derives in part from a time when Dunham actually briefly cared for a piglet with two heads — looks at how these kinds of changes have been exacerbated by the spread of pesticide use, genetically modified crops and other agribusiness trademarks. Several veterinary diagnoses, for example, have been complicated by these practices, or what she calls “two-headed science ... deformed and corrupted by vested interests.”

Using her own farming experiences, Dunham makes the argument that changes to farm policies and human consumption patterns can make huge differences to the future health of all creatures, great and small.

Leah Dunham will host a reading and discussion of her book at White Square Books in Easthampton on Sunday at 2 p.m.

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