I just finished Chris Cleave’s novel, Little Bee, a compelling, page-turning, and profound work of fiction about a 16-year-old refugee from Nigeria. I highly recommend it. While Little Bee is not a true story, it tells the truth, just like Khaled Hosseini’s novel, The Kite Runner, and John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath and Charles Dickens’ and Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novels do. And while it’s important to read classic truth-telling fiction writers like Steinbeck and Dickens and Dostoevsky, it’s also important to read our modern novelist truth-tellers.
It’s important, not because their novels should be the source of our information, but because stories open our hearts as they engage our minds. More people are likely to read Hosseini’s novels about sexist life in Afghanistan than they are reporters’ accounts, and more are likely to learn through Little Bee about atrocities perpetrated by the Nigerian military to secure oil fields than they are through the media. If readers stop with these truth-telling novels, that’s a problem. But when such novels awaken readers to realities largely removed from them and spark interest that compels them to learn more, to pursue factual knowledge, and often to take action, that is wonderful.
When I was an English major in college, there were many who thought my field of study was quaint and useless. When I graduated and had few employable skills, I secretly wondered myself. So I went to law school (though I didn’t last past November; it was definitely the wrong career for me), and then the pendulum swung and I went to divinity school to study comparative world religions, another less-than-practical field. But here I am today, having exposed myself to thousands of stories and committed my life to trying to make a difference in the world. Each of those stories has led me here.
As a humane educator, I often encourage my students to read fiction alongside non-fiction accounts of problems in the world. The fiction awakens possibilities in their hearts and speaks a truth that is sometimes obscured by stacks of statistics and facts -- a truth that spurs them to take those statistics and facts to heart and become the person and educator they most want to be.
Author of Claude and Medea, a Moonbeam gold medal award winner for juvenile fiction, which follows the adventures of 12-year-olds trying to right wrongs wherever they find them.
Image courtesy of Piotr Bizior, Bizior Photography.
Like our blog? Please share it with others, comment, and/or subscribe to our RSS feed.