Eliza Griswold’s dense, intense and often beautifully written The Tenth Parallel ends with a bleak scene from the author’s travels in Nigeria. Reverend Abdu, a Muslim converted to Christianity, is trying to save the souls of a family of nomadic cattle herders who have been forced off their usual grazing lands by drought and have fetched up northwest of Jos, a town in the centre of the country. Abdu hopes to impress the family head, Mallam Ibrahim. Squatting in the family’s makeshift grass hut, Abdu attempts to set up a solar-powered DVD player to show Ibrahim a film which is supposed to convince him of the errors of his ways and the superiority of Christianity. ‘Who is Jesus?’ Abdu asks Ibrahim. ‘I don’t know,’ Ibrahim responds. ‘Who is Mohammed?’ ‘A Muslim.’ The DVD player dies. Abdu has forgotten to charge the batteries. ‘Will you accept Jesus?’ Abdu asks. ‘No … I like the way I pray, and I am not changing it,’ Ibrahim answers, and then asks if the preacher has any medicine for his cattle which have ‘swollen livers’. The machine, supplied by an evangelical American group, cost thousands of times more than the medicine would have. Abdu has none, however. The encounter ends.
The book is composed of similar vignettes. It is a fabulous piece of reportage. Griswold, also a poet, works mainly for the American magazines who are the only organisations these days with the resources, confidence and interest to send skilled, sensitive and literate people out to far-off places