The power of fiction
And the Mountains Echoed
There were many moments while reading Khaled Hosseini’s book And The Mountains Echoed where I’d catch my breath and blink back tears – where I’d let the book’s weight tip it back on my lap so I could watch scenes slipping, sliding and soaring like a snowboarder over the topography of my memory.
This is good fiction – when a story secrets you to a parallel universe enabling you to imagine the fictional story while simultaneously re-imaging your own. At the confluence of these two streams memories swirl in an eddy of conversations, familiar faces, and sepia toned scenes. These markers of our yesterdays take new shapes, follow new currents, offer new meaning…. should we have the courage to re-member, re-examine and re-set our narrative.
The ‘tea box of feathers’ brought a treasure to me. It seems to have taken a life time to find this treasure, to truly understand the power of our stories, not only the ones we tell others, but most importantly the ones we tell ourselves. Our inner narrative determines how we experience the river of our life, what we dream when the defence of wakefulness is subdued, the shape of our relationships with others and ourselves, and the peace we find, or not, in stillness.
My ‘tea box of feathers’ may not be understood by others, just as Abdullah’s was not – only the reader is given privy to it’s meaning … a testament to love. And in the end, does it truly matter if it’s not understood? I don’t think so. What matters is what we choose to weave into the narrative of our lives, what we place in our tea box …. because ultimately it is our own devised, revised and surmised narrative that will determine our experience of the river.
Non-fiction … or disputed facts
The Terminal Spy Alan S Cowell
The Terminal Spy tells of the events related to the murder of former Russian spy, Alexander Litvinenko. Litvinenko defected to the United Kingdom and was murdered in 2006 by ingesting the radioactive substance polonium-210. Even today many questions remain unanswered about the killing. In his 2008 book, Alan Cowell, a British former journalist, presents information he gathered from interviews and reports, along with detailed background that includes biographies of Litvinenko, Putin and others central to the labyrinthine tale.
This book found me just after I found the Putin Files on Youtube and just as another former Russian defector and his daughter lay critically ill in an English hospital having been poisoned by a nerve agent Novichok on 4 March 2018 in Salisbury, England. And on the very day I am writing this, the Russian people are at the polls voting in their Presidential elections. To complete the trifecta, the United States continues an investigation into suspected Russian interreference in the US 2016 election that saw Donald Trump become President – and Facebook appears to have enabled millions of Facebook profiles to be accessed to assist in the manipulation of voters, in favour of the Trump campaign.
Reading Cowell’s book while these events were happening was surreal – like watching history repeat, or watching Ancient Athenian or Shakespearean theatre, or reading a John le Carré novel, or even slipping into a parallel universe where the Cold War didn’t end when the Berlin Wall fell …where the tyrannical leaders simply hung their coats in the closet, knowing they’d be needed again when the seasons changed.
Through this I am again reminded that I have a patchy, peripheral knowledge and understanding of other peoples’ histories, tragedies and triumphs… of the need to understand the personality of a nation, of a people …to listen beyond the sound bites delivered through headlines, tweets and posts …and to not be swept up in the fear and fright that sells copy. I’m reminded also of Peter Singer’s book, Practical Ethics, which challenges the reader to consider all things from an ethical point of view – he reminds me that my response to the world, matters …and in that vein I endeavour to understand the bigger picture, to not lose sight of the ordinary in the chaos, and to always feel my feet on the ground, so that my understanding and response is informed, objective and encompasses the universe ….
The ethical point of view … require(s) us to go beyond a personal point of view to the standpoint of an impartial spectator. Thus looking at things ethically is a way of transcending our inward-looking concerns and identifying ourselves with the most objective point of view possible – with, as Sidgwick put it, ‘the point of view of the universe’. (Practical Ethics Peter Singer, sec ed. 1999 p334)