I just finished reading a piece of fiction that had been misfiled by the editors of the New Yorker under a category – feature? expose? – that is commonly associated with non-fiction. i.e. truthful reporting. The article, by Jon Lee Anderson, would appear to the relatively uninformed American – and boy aren’t there a lot of us – to be one that covers the thirty year war in Sri Lanka from start to finish. Oddly enough, it is largely erroneous, its one nod to any “good” achieved by Sri Lanka’s government is contained in a parenthesis, as if he just ran out of time to get all the information but felt what he had was enough to pass muster. But what the heck, how odd is it when I am yet to see a single article in the American press that actually covered the events in Sri Lanka without prejudice against her government and her entire people, both Sinhalese and Tamil?
Sri Lankan journalist, Malinda Seneviratne, ends his testimony to the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Committee (LLRC), with a reference to the human particulars of war. Jon Lee Anderson is content with three unidentified witnesses, one of whom is supposedly a social worker but is strangely able to travel in restricted areas with no problem and to whom various Tamil “prisoners” make representations, and a bit of attention-getting video tape that was discredited when it was first shown by the BBC.
The Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist and novelist, Lorraine Adams said once, in conversation with me during a Rumpus Mini interview, “Reality is not a news story or a short story. It’s a big, too often boring, place of inconsistency, frustration, and, only rarely, the beauty of clarity.” Jon Lee misses it entirely in this piece. I’d say to him, “I know my people and they are not the ones you describe. Clearly, you also know yours. For you and yours it is enough to write a pile of garbage about people ‘from somewhere else’ and call it truth.” It is no surprise that Mr. Anderson does not even mention the LLRC. Obviously, nothing “counts” unless it is authenticated by the foreign press. If anybody truly wants to hear some history, some facts, some suggestions, some heart, some TRUTH, listen to this:
Testimony Part I:
Testimony Part II:
And if you want to hear how fiction fights for the truth, come listen to Lorraine and me along with Luis Alberto Urrea, Porochista Khakpour and Natalie Handal, speaking from the experience of straddling the POV of America as well as Pakistan, Afghanistan, Palestine, Iran, Mexico and Sri Lanka, speak at AWP in Washington, D.C. (listing below).
3 – 4.15pm/Friday
Omni Shoreham Hotel, West Lobby
F207A. I Am Not a Terrorist: The Political Writer. (Terry Hong, Lorraine Adams, Ru Freeman, Nathalie Handal, Porochista Khakpour, Luis Alberto Urrea) As national borders disintegrate through war and technology, fictional ones do not necessarily follow suit, often staying true to place. But must writers whose lives are political, and who function as spokespersons for worlds that American readers may never visit, write politics into their art? Writers with ties to current debates about Iran, Palestine, Algeria, Sri Lanka, Mexico, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, discuss the burden of truth and the choices they make as cultural translators.