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Fiction Vs Non Fiction

In Sapiens A Brief History of Humankind, author Harari claims, ‘Our language evolved as a way of gossiping. It may sound like a joke, but numerous studies support it. Even today the vast majority of human communication-whether in the form of emails, phone calls, or newspaper columns-is gossip.’ Weaving a fable to explain a likely future, a hypothetical reality is as old as human nature. Every day politicians make promises they can’t keep; it is fiction to assume that every person will find employment or that poverty will be eradicated, but people lap it up, perhaps even demand that an improbable commitment be made because we are conditioned to have faith. From Biblical stories that tell us of Noah’s Ark and the ten plagues of Egypt, we learn from a tender age to marvel at drama and hang on to the promise of a Utopian future. 

‘Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth,’ said Albert Camus and ‘Fiction reveals truth that reality obscures,’ remarked Ralph Waldo Emerson, both renowned authors permitting us an insight into penning fiction. In all probability, the oldest known work of fiction is a mythic poem-Epic of Gilgamesh– from the third millennium B.C., an adventurous tale of a Sumerian king described as one-third man and two-thirds god. Twelve clay tablets chronicle his journey for the key to immortality. The Tale of Genji from Japan is the oldest known novel, about a handsome gifted couturier called Genji. The author’s real name isn’t known but scholars assigned the name Murasaki Shikibu to her, from the book’s female dominant character. Writer and poet Wace’s The Knights of the Round Table goes as far back as the twelfth century. From India came a series of stories about a ghost and a king, called Baital Paachisi written nearly two thousand five hundred years ago by Mahakavi Bhatt.

Very often, authors are less famous than the characters they create; Ian Fleming’s James Bond, Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, Harper Lee’s Atticus Finch, Ayn Rand’s Howard Roark and of course, Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer appear as real to us as the person next door. For decades, books of learning or court records could be segregated as nonfiction books. There are ancient works such as Egyptian literature which chronicled the daily lives of administrative officials in the form of epistles and autobiographical texts. Tuzk-e-babri, (Emperor Babar’s biography) is only one among many memoirs in Mughal history. Chanakya’s Arthashastra(between the third and second century B.C.) is an Indian treatise on economic/military and political statecraft. Aside from historical volumes, nonfiction publications on science and psychology, such as Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (1859), Jean Paul Sartre’s The Psychology of Imagination (1940), and Hawking’s A Brief History of Time (1988) became widely known. More recently, Siddharth Mukherjee’s The Gene and Michio Kaku’s Physics of the Future have joined the large number of books that contain carefully researched facts.

‘I still believe that nonfiction is the most important literature to come out of the second half of the twentieth century’,’ said Tom Wolfe American author and journalist. The current wave of nonfiction literature unleashed on the public has been phenomenal. Self help books (Who Moved my Cheese?  by Dr. Spencer Johnson) positive visualization books (The Secret by Rhonda Byrne), personal journeys (Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert), humorous autobiographical accounts (Tina Fey’s Bossypants), and similar material have flooded bookshops. Everyone with a worthwhile experience in any field can chip in today, and readers welcome the vicarious ride. Peppered with amusing hyperbole, and fuelled by unsubstantiated notions, this kind of nonfiction makes one wonder if the lines between fact and fiction are blurring.  In this era of anything goes, we can believe it all- fiction books that have relatable real life characters, and nonfiction books proclaiming hitherto unheard of human powers.

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