Saturday, June 12, 2010

reading. history. and reading historical fiction.

David Brooks is pretty solid.  One of his editorials this week was about the importance of liberal arts degrees in an economic time when it seems more smarter to study something that is more directly practical to a specific job. Reading (and looking at art/studying history/listening to music, etc.) makes us people more in touch with the complex depths of humanity that cannot be measured, quantified or simply named.

Last weekend, a student asked me to read Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosay. Though it will never be a book award winner, it was a relatively well written, powerful story about July 16, 1942, when the French government rounded up thousands of its own men, women and children to be delivered to to concentration camps.  Sadly, this event was not something that was taught in French history classes until recently--which is sadly too often the case for the darkest moments of any country's history.

The story follows a ten year old girl who was taken from her home and a modern American woman who moved to Paris after college and has lived there for 25 years stumbles up on her story and realizes her personal connection to it.  As she visits the lonely, rarely visited places of the roundup, the plaques read "remember and never forget," though she realizes that most people have intentionally chosen to forget, believing that it is a safer, less painful path.

In relation to historical fiction, without story, history often becomes memories of menial note taking and impersonal timelines.  We lose the deep, complex narrative of the human race.  I was appalled that I had no idea this happened in France. Similarly, I was appalled that I moved to New York with a college degree in hand, and had no idea about what happening in the Sudan.  I took two classes about African women writers. Curses.

The moment people begin to forget its own dark corners is the moment that they become closer to resurfacing.  And, on the opposite end, the second we begin to forget the bright moments is when we lose our grasp on what is real, good and true and therefore lose everything, collectively or as individuals.

1 comment:

D.M. McGowan said...

Every person, group or country has a few instances that they should be ashamed of. The often glorified RCMP attacked Canadian citizens in the poverty ridden thirties and it is seldom mentioned. When it is mentioned it is presented in such a way as to suggest they did a great thing.
I do believe I'll write one of my novels around that one day.