Sunday, October 18, 2009

Other Stories

I often worry that I am so inculcated into the secular Israeli world, into the westernized version of the Middle East, that I fail to see details of what surrounds me. I’m not sure I will ever get to a ‘truth,’ I mean there are tens, hundreds of versions of not only what happened, but what is happening day to day in the Israel that I encounter. My Jewish husband and his children have a story, I have another, the Arab Israelis, the Palestinians, Syrians, the Bedouins, the Druze, the various tribal and family groups that pass undetected under my insensitive radar have still others.

Chimamanda Adichie, the award-winning Nigerian novelist and short story writer, captures my concern more eloquently that I could ever voice it in a talk she gave a few months ago at TED. TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is a small nonprofit group that holds conferences and provides a forum for lectures and talks by thinkers, politicians, artists, you name it. There is a web site where many of the talks are available for free. And they are great! Adichie’s was just released this week.

Anyway, back to Adichi, she talked about how her early readings of books by western authors led her to believe at a young age that there was only ‘one story’ as reflected by literature. That one story, at least early on, revolved around white foreigners doing and saying things that didn’t encompass aspects of her life. Her life, and indeed Nigeria's or even Africa's, was not one that found its way into literature. It was only later after reading books by African writers that she grew convinced that she had a story to tell, that she had African stories to tell. But, what was more interesting, was that she revealed her story often was built on its own stereotypes—stereotypes about those of other classes and countries, stereotypes of others that resided outside her relatively small world. Stereotypes, she says, are often not wrong, just incomplete. It is only by recognizing our own stereotypes and attempting to step around them, we gain some fuller version of the world. My prose here fails to capture the fluency of her talk and I hope you give the video a listen. As she said at the end of her talk, when we reject the idea that there is a single story about any place or people, we regain a kind of paradise.

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