The bestseller was originally published in 2006 and told the story of how a mountain climber set out to bring schools to Pakistan and Afghanistan to help educate the girls of remote villages. In 2010 reports showed that almost 200 schools were built and thousands were educated.
In theory, a beautiful thing; in fact at the time of the scandal being brought to life I had read half of the book and actually liked what I saw.
Now, though, as news is released and commentary given on the original book and the sequel, I'm beginning to see the underlying issues and, maybe, even underlying evils.
Several articles are already floating around explaining how the book is inaccurate and Mortenson misused funds meant to go into the schools; a few even mention that Mortenson is saying his publisher is the one to blame.
The fact that the publishing industry stooped to such a low in itself is insulting to me as a writer and as a reporter. Always print the truth; honestly, one thing I've learned over the years is that the truth is always more interesting than fiction.
But one question not being brought up in the mainstream press is what it says about us as a people, that we enjoy books about western folks trekking into foreign lands to improve the lives of others.
Don't get me wrong; I believe in activism. I believe in working to help others when it is my place and I have an ability to answer a call for help.
Still, the trend in literature of Americans going out into uncharted territory and saving the day is, perhaps, an unsettling one when it comes to reflecting how we as a people see ourselves in a global society - and working to help others does not mean simplifying their plight or their culture to fit within our ideas of them.
So what's the problem with this book in particular?
To quote an article by Mimi Kirk, "Mortenson’s story (and those like it, such as The Kite Runner) reinforces a narrative of terrorism that does not take into account larger historical and structural issues at play, exalts American and Western culture and aid, and often ignores the complexity and agency of the people it purports to help."
Also to quote Kirk:
"This scandal, larger than the book itself, goes straight into the darkness that lies at the heart of military-led humanitarian and development schemes the world round—and shows the fiction in which these enterprises are based."
Read the full article about the issues surrounding the book in American social and military culture at the following link:
What do you think? Do you look at the world through the eyes of an American only? Will this sort of debate change the way you approach others and help you consider the complexities of cultural differences?