A novel that made me rethink some of my assumptions about modern India was Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger. Like many foreign journalists I was attached to a few clichés about the country: booming economy, world’s largest democracy, fine tradition of the rule of law. Mr Adiga’s book reveals the brutality, lawlessness and exploitation of the poor than often lie behind these glossy slogans. It does what fiction can often do much more effectively than journalism – dramatise the stories of the powerless.
Fiction’s ability to give a voice to the voiceless explains why it sometimes needs a novel to convey why Egypt and Libya were on the point of revolution, or to help explain why India is still afflicted by Maoist rebellions, in spite of growth rates of 8-9 per cent a year.
I agree. The same goes for a well-conceived and well-written ethnography.