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Of yellow suns and puppet emperors

Saadia Iqbal's picture

I just finished reading Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The book is about a period in Nigeria's history when the country was facing a violent civil war that even led to a brief seccession of the southeastern part of the country into a new state: The Republic of Biafra. Without attempting to go into all the reasons behind the conflict (read the book if you're interested), I'll just say that I learned a lot about the country's past. In fact, I really had no idea that any of this had happened. While this probably reflects really badly on my general knowledge, it also reflects really strongly on the power of literature to spread knowledge and awareness.

I have some friends who don't much care for reading fiction, and pooh-pooh it as a waste of time. "Who wants to read made-up stories?" they sneer. "Non-fiction is so much more important. That's real life."

But who says literature isn't real-life? Books tell us about people, cultures, history, civilization, psychology, just about everything, in fact. Movies too, for that matter. I just learned quite a bit about a period in China's history while watching The Last Emperor, a film about Puyi, a ruler who served as a non-ruling, "puppet" emperor during the fnal days of imperial China. (Unfortunately, I found the movie so boring I couldn't finish it, so am still a bit vague on the details of that period).

Of course, both books and movies can be misleading. They are inevitably skewed through the author/director's personal perspective of events. But they can still give us an overall picture, and perhaps pique our curiosity enough to want to investigate more.

What do you think? Can you think of any books or movies that are good portrayals of your country? Which ones are they?