Frankenstein in Baghdad Q8: Stories

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"Sitting in the coffee shop, he would tell the story from the beginning, never tiring of repeating himself. He immersed himself in the story and went with the flow, maybe in order to give pleasure to others or maybe to convince himself that it was just a story from his fertile imagination and that it had never really happened."

What is Saadawi saying about stories and their role in our lives? Are factual stories and fictional stories treated differently, or are they one and the same?

Comments

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    Stories, and storytelling, and stories within stories, are a tradition ever since the Arabian Nights. The structure in this book could be genuinely following that tradition, an intertextual reference to the Arabian Nights, or a deliberate ploy to distance the reader from events, so that we can respond intellectually rather than emotionally.

    Everything in the book comes filtered through the storytelling of someone. Even the episode in Dora is one that's related to Andan al-Anwar, perhaps just made up by Faraj and narrated by Abu Salim.

    I think he's saying something about how stories shape our lives, and how we can only know things outside our direct experience because of the stories we're told. But I'm not sure it's the most interesting thing to be said about the book. If I'm wrong, please say!

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    It's a topic that we have circled round several times in the last year or so - I remember a lengthy chat about it when we read The Orenda. Oddly enough I came across this article a few days ago
    https://lithub.com/between-fact-and-fable-historical-fiction-or-nonfictional-novel/
    which tackles similar issues - the books discussed there tread a difficult and seemingly dubious line between fact and invention which has made a number of readers uncomfortable, especially in an era of fake news.

    Ultimately (IMHO) everything we process in our consciousnesses from other people we do as story, whether that story be told to us verbally, related in a book, a news article or whatever. And our own perceptions of the world are subject to so many filters that they might as well be stories - they're certainly highly redacted versions of the original events!

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    I feel like there's something in here about safety in fiction. Elishva has convinced herself (tells herself a fiction) that he son is going to return. That's how she gets by in life. Hadi also gets by by telling stories, and he's safe as long as these stories feel like fiction. But eventually it seems like they are fact, and he gets in trouble. To restore the balance, he's arrested (a fictional charge?). There's a difference between fictional stories, and factual stories. Telling factual stories can get you in trouble, as happened to both Saidi and Hadi.

    Earlier in the book, didn't Saidi reveal something about the Brigadier (a dangerous truth). Later he disappears, and the police show up saying he embezzled millions in aid money. Probably a fiction. Does this represent a return to balance?

    So, where are we with this? There's no justice (see justice topic), and the only safety lies in fiction?

    This is similar to what I've read in books about depression and coping, and about success too, for that matter. People who talk about success say that if you can envision your success, you're more likely to achieve it. And people who talk about coping tell you that if you can reframe your perspective (by looking at your successes rather than failures) you can achieve happiness. Cognitive Therapy, right?

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    There's a lot in the effect that the stories we tell ourselves can shape how we feel about things. But I don't subscribe to the idea that stories, fiction, are the only way we can know things. I come from a science/maths background and there's a lot there that's objective truth (as famously pointed out by Galileo's "Yet it moves" comment).

    In that book though, there are only stories. There's no objective truth, such as official statistics. How many people died? All those shootouts in Dora: did they really happen? I think we can take it as another signal that the Iraqi state had failed, there was no overarching authority, and all people could rely on was what they knew from individuals they trusted.

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    @NeilNjae said:
    There's a lot in the effect that the stories we tell ourselves can shape how we feel about things. But I don't subscribe to the idea that stories, fiction, are the only way we can know things. I come from a science/maths background and there's a lot there that's objective truth (as famously pointed out by Galileo's "Yet it moves" comment).

    A similar background for me, but I'm not so sure. In a post-Einstein world, I am at total liberty to tell the story that my viewpoint does not move and everything else does - so long as I am also willing to pay the cost of vastly more complex descriptions of motion of everything else! I'm not sure we have a preferred frame of reference any more. But I do appreciate that that is kind of quibbling, and I do agree with you that there are things out there, and lots of them, that are not as subjective as fishermen's tales.

    In that book though, there are only stories. There's no objective truth, such as official statistics. How many people died? All those shootouts in Dora: did they really happen? I think we can take it as another signal that the Iraqi state had failed, there was no overarching authority, and all people could rely on was what they knew from individuals they trusted.

    Yes indeed, though I was nagged by memories of this excellent book which I devoured as a young person...

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    Agree with @NeilNjae that stories as things are over-rated, but OTOH as I think @RichardAbbott means it's hard to describe anything significant without talking of a sequence of events. And unreliable narrators are only unreliable because we can imagine a reliable narrator (in contrast with say an authentic actor). And justice necessitates story, but perhaps what justice is an end of story. So always a work-in-progress, as I think this novel suggests, but where's the justice in work?

    Also see my comment in Characters.

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    It's a story. A story about stories stitched together to resemble a novel, in the dark and if you squint hard.

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