Monday, September 22, 2008

Stories Can't Always be Vetted

Cola's Journey is the story of Sudanese boy soldier Cola Bilkuei, who escaped his life by journeying to South Africa and telling/selling his biography. Sadly, it's not available outside of Australia yet, but here's an essay from the Sydney Morning Herald.

Essay author Malcolm Knox was asked to verify Cola's story, and makes observations that the historian-in-me treasures:

Ultimately, though, between what could be verified and what lies on the pages of Cola's book, there will always remain a margin where we must simply take his word. Some will ask why any author's word should be trusted. My answer is that if we take such a hard line, we will deprive ourselves of all oral history, of every story that is one person's recollection.

If we did that, winnowing history to what is documented on official records, swathes of human experience would be lost.

Bravo. We will always have charlatans, and we will always hate them because they make fools of us. But let's not deny ourselves rich tales--fiction and non--because we're so afraid of being taken.

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