Saturday, February 07, 2009

Story Telling

I just finished a book that I'm feeling passionate about. Unfortunately, the sites I review for don't cover general fiction, but since I feel so strongly about it, I have to tell someone.

If you write, I strongly suggest you pick up The Hakawati by Rabih Alameddine (Knopf, publishers). It's almost impossible to describe this book as it's many stories at once. You only get pieces of each, and it's hard to see where the narrative is leading, but the stories are so engrossing that I gave up linear thinking and happily followed them to the end (where the stories did converge).

Other than being a riveting read, the reason I suggest writers read this book is that I feel sometimes we lose a sense of where stories come from. For thousands of years, stories weren't written down. When we began to rely on print, I think we started to lose some of the great traditions of spellbinding storytelling. The Hakawati isn't just a story about a family, It's a story about their stories, and they way those stories are passed on.

Family stories are probably the last bastion of the oral storytelling tradition. We rarely write them down. The only people who know them are family, and we only bring them out when family gathers. They give us a sense of who we are, and give structure to the complicated ways we relate to blood.

This book made me think about the craft of writing. No - it made me think about the craft of telling a story. They should be the same thing, but if you write, I'm sure you understand the subtle difference. Literary writing too often focuses on the beauty of language, not on the story. And while words strung together like jewels may be beautiful, they tell us nothing.

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