Friday, July 13, 2007

Kamila Shamsie on telling the truth through fiction

The Pakistani writer Kamila Shamsie writes of how her urge tell the truth through fiction developed while living under Zia Ul-Haq’s dictatorship. I liked most the part where she summarizes the great strength of fiction, something well known, but worth reiterating:

“Fiction writers go where news reporters and historians dare not tread: into characters' heads, into the dreams they lose at the moment of waking, into the memories forgotten, the fears never articulated even to themselves. We do all this, even while making stuff up or distorting and embellishing "what really happened" for the sake of a dramatic arc; and, in so doing, we claim our ability to convey emotional truths, more revelatory about a time and place than any series of facts.”

But Shamsie writes also that the social context and the world of facts can never be ignored and is quite important:
“But the fact is, making up the emotional truths would not be possible without facts. You need to know the contours of the world into which you are going to drop your made-up characters and their made-up lives; when people ask me which parts of my novel are based on things that really happened, I point out that I can't make up context, only the shapes that fill it. And though my editing process consists in good part of cutting out every fact I've garnered through research, I would never have been able to write the books without that research itself.”
The full article is here.


Pallavi said...

This is an interesting blog! Fiction is nothing but facts woven differently..but they are still based on real life observations.

Hari said...

I agree Pallavi - fiction, despite its falsifications, is able to portray truths better in certain cases. Finding the right form (either fiction or non-fiction or poetry or essay) to convey an experience is, I feel, one of the most challenging things in writing.