What Novels Can Teach Us About Poverty

| 11/18/2008 11:10:02 AM

white tigerBooks blog NewPages passes along an item from PhysOrg.com arguing that contemporary fiction is just as good an indicator of the global condition as academic nonfiction, especially in the realm of poverty and development.

A team of British researchers has found that novels often illuminate the complexity and human dimensions of poverty as well as, if not better than, academic research. “Fiction is important because it often concerned with the basic subject matter of development,” Michael Woolcock, a professor with Manchester University’s Brooks World Poverty Institute, told PhysOrg.com. “This includes things like the promises and perils of encounters between different peoples; the tragic mix of courage, desperation, humor, and deprivation characterizing the lives of the down-trodden.”

The team studied—and recommends—the following best-selling novels: The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga; A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry; The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini; Raag Darbari by Shrilal Shukla; and Brick Lane by Monica Ali.

“Storytelling is one of humanity’s oldest methods of possessing information and representing reality,” David Lewis from the London School of Economics told PhysOrg.com. “The stories, poems and plays we categorize as literary fiction were once accepted in much the same way that scientific discourse is received as authoritative today.”



11/24/2008 4:05:00 PM

I work in poverty reduction in Toronto, and and an important part of that work is conducting community-based, participatory research projects on the various issues - hunger, lack of affordable housing, etc. I like interviewing and even if the data entry of the results seems boring, I have found that there is a story in every survey - a story where I can envision that person who has agreed to be interviewed, even if their personal privacy is protected, meaning that I don't know their name. I can give them one. There is an advantage to the understanding of poverty that the novels mentioned here can give. I am a huge fan of Rohinton Mistry, and I have a copy of A fine Balance, which I've read more than once. I have only one issue with gaining an understanding of poverty through reading fiction: The best way to understand the poverty that your neighbour is living is to meet your neighbour, to see for yourself what their poverty means. And in North America, there is a lot of poverty, which is just as demeaning and severe as that which the Indians in A Fine Balance are living. I like the article - much of what it says is true. Great fiction is always a way to open the mind and use the imagination. The poverty described here is not just imaginary, nor does it just exist in "developing" countries - it's here in North America, often alongside the greatest affluence our human race has ever known. Patricia Smiley

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