Sunday, 1 June 2014
Recently I have read a number of books that have given me hope for the future of cross-cultural and cross-religious dialogue and openness.
The books are novels written by a new breed of author: those emerging from family heritage from the once considered, to the Western eye and mind, ‘exotic’ places - Nigeria, Sudan, Cairo, Gharnata (Spain), India, Pakistan and Palestine – where past and current conflicts have a long history. It is no longer the Eurocentric author presenting an ‘exotic’ story and comment, but indigenous writers using their own frames of reference and their own cultural and family history and experience. For the reader, it can be an overdue lesson in social, political and religious history from many different perspectives.
All the novels, in one way or another, explore how different religious beliefs and cultural embodiment can, and then do not, co-exist, and how different families and family members negotiate their way along the path between. The exclusivism and radicalisation of religion and religious beliefs is addressed, as is the underlying drive towards control, violence and elimination. Some authors also explore differences within the same cultural heritage and family in those instances when members have not only differing religious beliefs but have moved, or escaped, to live somewhere else. Through their characters the authors directly and openly explore the complexity of the issues involved.
The fact that these books have been published and are available, not without difficulty and backlash in one particular case, is a testimony to the authors, our changing world, and the commitment of enlightened publishers. It brings hope. Hope that the dialogue, in this case between author and reader, will continue. Hope that in writing and reading stories of difference, we will come to understand the relativity of what we think we know, experience and believe.
Some of the books include:
Susan Abulhawa, Mornings in Jenin
Leila Aboulela, Lyrics Alley
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Purple Hibiscus and The Thing Around Your Neck
Ayad Akhtar, American Dervish
Tariq Ali, Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree
and the classic, Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart.
c. Annette Maie, 2014