Read. Learn. Understand.

December 29, 2007

As a kid, I was a big reader. I devoured books one by one, digesting between one and three a week.

I’m still an avid reader, even if my metabolism has slowed a bit. I read across genres, and lately have found myself reading novels written by authors hailing from the other side of the world, namely India, Afghanistan and China.

I find novels taking place in other parts of the world – or describing people of different cultures – fascinating. Even if the book itself is not spectacular, I do find myself able to delicately pick out bits of cultural information so that I can learn new details about diverse populations.

Currently I’m breezing through Afghan-American Khaled Hosseini‘s A Thousand Splendid Suns. His first novel, The Kiterunner, took America by storm and is about to be released as a film. I think it probably has to do with the fact that the story takes place in Afghanistan, a place which Americans associate with the Taliban, backwards villagers and war. Hosseini’s novel is colorful, historical and human.

Hosseini’s works confirm the idea that by writing novels painted with authentic culture and bits of historical events, and then translating them into other worldwide languages like English, people can start to see through new lenses into cultures not usually accessed. What the media and government hurts, authors and artists can heal.

It’s a skill for both writers and readers to do this right, because it would be too easy to fall into the pitfalls of stereotyping, generalizing or taking everything literally. But with a few grains of salt and an open mind, reading realistic and historical fiction can be a worldly lesson in other cultures, and eventually a basis for tolerance and understanding.