When Fiction Can Help Us Better Understand The World
It’s been a few weeks since I finished reading Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner. Amir and Hassan are still with me and I pay more attention when Afghanistan is mentioned, as it is too often unfortunately in our news.
But this is my point. Those of us who even bother these days to listen to the news on the radio, watch it on TV, or open a newspaper (paper or on-line), quickly become desensitized to a topic that is consistently appearing, especially if it is something that either we know little about from the beginning, or that little impact on our personal everyday life.
Afghanistan for me, prior to the war was a vague mountainous region where some tribes seemed able to prevent the powerful Soviet army from conquering it. That was about it.
Now, having read The Kite Runner, my ears perk up when the news mentions Afghanistan. I know what a Hazara is. I understand the NPR reporter’s language when he recounted how different ethnic groups were responding to the election.
This was all made possible for me by reading a fictional account of the land, history, people and culture. I am going to assume that Khaled Hosseini is painting a fairly accurate picture of Afghan society as he sees it. I cannot assume more.
But fiction can play an important part in providing understanding and awareness of what is taking place in the world. Perhaps it can also help provide a desire to demand and work for a sustainable future for, in this case, Afghanistan.
Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com