Recognizable Humans

From Guernica’s interview with Katherine Boo:

Guernica: How did you balance telling individuals’ stories and using those stories to illuminate India’s economic inequality?

Katherine Boo: …When I pick a story, I’m very much aware of the larger issues that it’s illuminating. But one of the things that I, as a writer, feel strongly about is that nobody is representative. That’s just narrative nonsense. People may be part of a larger story or structure or institution, but they’re still people. Making them representative loses sight of that. Which is why a lot of writing about low-income people makes them into saints, perfect in their suffering. But you take Abdul, for instance. He’s diffident, he’s selfish, he’s not very verbal. Even his own family considers him charmless. But when the reader meets him, they sense he’s a real person, that he’s not a construct. And even Manchu—who’s good and generous in many ways—she’s good and generous as a way of getting back at her mother. The more righteous she can be, the better she can stick it to her mom. So you try to let the reader have a sense of this person and soul, as a recognizable human.

The rest of the interview is here. And courtesy my mom (why not?), an interview with Martin Amis, in which Amis looks pretentious in comparison.

(I like Amis and it’s an unfair comparison. But I can’t help thinking that you get to choose what kind of writer you will be, and Boo chose well.)

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