Part of the Power to the People series of events as selected by guest selector, key figure in the Black Lives Matter movement, Regina Porter and Fatima Bhutto were invited to the Edinburgh International Book Festival to discuss novels and whether they reflect human diversity. Regina Porter was promoting her novel, The Travelers, and Fatima Bhutto discussing hers, The Runaways, both of which provide sweeping portrayals of life in Pakistan and the USA.
Bhutto’s novel moves between Karachi and southern England, telling a tale of radicalisation and identity, while Porter’s debut novel chronicles two families journeying through the American 20th century. Chaired by Hannah Lavery, with the guest selector, DeRay Mckesson, in the audience, it was a delight to hear a frank and open discussion around the role of the novel in ideals, belief systems and contention, as well as the yarm and tale itself.
Fatima Bhutto exclaimed that she, “always quite liked the novel as a Trojan horse,” whereas Regina (who is from a playwriting background) finds that something can be a little bit more intimate with a novel, as it opens up the world a little more. A thread that runs through The Travelers and The Runaways is that their characters have a strong passion for reading, but this comes as no surprise. There is nothing easier to create than characters that we know deep down. Fatima digressed that in her novel her character is a poet, as poetry was revolutionary in Pakistan, and she describes Karachi as shapeless and faceless and nameless, just like London and any other major city.
Regina Porter exclaimed, “I’m interested more in how trauma moves, the lunations of reinventing yourself in a new country” and she obviously explores that in The Travelers. She has focussed on violence in her novel, as well as themes of alienation, humiliation and inequality. She was far from matter of fact with it, she “decided it was more empowering to let the reader fill in the blanks… Sometimes if you show a woman being victimised, she becomes an object that the reader can separate in a way they can’t if you leave breathing room for the reader to possibly project themselves there.”
Both novels consider class and race, which offer a wonderful hour of discussion on the topic of fiction and reflecting truth. But if there is one thing to take away from the event, and boy, well there are many, then it is this quote about privilege, it is rendering people as invincible. It was a deep hour on the topic of novels and how they offer up opportunity to explore and really pull apart an issue, in ways that non-fiction simply cannot do.
For more on the Edinburgh International Book Festival programme click here.