Monday, February 7, 2011

Ignorance is Bliss?

I loved The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini’s first book. I know people had beef with some of the coincidences in the plot, but for me, I loved that Hosseini brought Afghanistan to life for me, in a way the news never had. I loved living in Kabul, before the wars. I loved the themes of treachery, forgiveness and redemption. I thought it was beautifully rendered, moving, hopeful.

I approached his follow-up book, One Thousand Splendid Suns, with some trepidation. After I had read the first half, I realized why. The characters’ lives were so grim, so relentlessly horrible, that I wanted to put it down. I really did. It colored my weekend, which was already rainy, even more gray. But I was too invested. I wanted to see what would happen. So I give Hosseini credit for that. And also, for once again, bringing Afghanistan to life. The war, the poverty, hunger, violence, the complete powerlessness of women—they became very real to me as I read the book. And God bless him for writing it. I can imagine the burning need he must have had, to give voice to the women of his country who suffered so greatly.

But…it was hard to take. There was hope at the end, thank God, but if I’m being honest, I really don’t want to spend my time living in such horror. I think works like that are important. I’m sure there are people in the world who don’t know such atrocities exist. I hope people read that book and felt moved to do something for others, be it refugees, victims of domestic violence, or someone in their family. But in the years I worked with refugees, I heard enough gruesome stories to last a lifetime. People told me things so terrible, I would sit in awe, amazed that the person who survived them was sitting in my office, drawing breath.

My clients’ stories inspired me. Seeing the resilience of human beings, of what people can endure, and come through gave me faith that I too, could endure hardship should it appear. But they also exacted a price. I couldn’t hear the stories without taking the details into my very vivid imagination and living with them.

It’s not that I want to be unaware of what’s happening in the world, it’s that I don’t want to be so paralyzed by sadness, so overwhelmed with horror, that I do nothing. For similar reasons I limit my intake of news, which is rarely anything but doom and gloom, and I avoid books like One Thousand Splendid Suns. Because by spending time in that world, I don’t feel inspired, I don’t feel empowered, I feel borderline despondent. And I don’t see how that helps anyone.

Is that willful ignorance? Maybe. But I guess I fail to see how me having a sad weekend will do anything to help people like the characters in the book. So, I’m glad it was written, I’m glad people read it, I hope it did some good in the world, but for me, I’d rather have spent the weekend laughing with Bridget Jones.

1 comment:

Mr. Ackerman said...

Nicely written piece! I was reading John Barleycorn on the train to work today. Jack London's descriptions of drinking alcohol and the head crushing hang overs were so well written, I began to feel physically ill. Not a great way to start the school day. But I do admire the quality of London's writing.