Historically speaking, storytelling as we know it began with the Epic of Gilgamesh. So it is an old habit continued now by not just the novel but the anecdote as well. Aminatta Forna describes this giving and receiving of stories as a symbiotic process where either side benefits from the telling. This is why reading fiction can change behavior as well; the therapeutic value of storytelling or reading cannot be underestimated. The author reminds us that it is not the commercial novel that displays these properties but literary fiction that can better an individual. However, fiction also opens holes in society. Although the author who is from Sierra Leone had read about racism, she did not recognize it for what it was until she lived in the west. The obsession with darkness as evil had infiltrated literature and graphic novels.
“Did I ever think the portrayals I read of Africans and people of color were true? Certainly they didn’t square with my own experience of growing up in West Africa….To see oneself only ever reflected through the eyes of another is to view the self through a distorting lens.”
So storytelling is a huge responsibility as it involves the shaping of perception. This line that Forna quotes from Ben Okri is important: “To poison a nation, poison its stories.”
Forna also talks about how it important it is for a storyteller to seize the narrative for it is the story of overcoming all odds that makes a resilient human being. Many times trauma survivors can be helped by simply helping them to shift the narrative that they have made about themselves. Read this insightful essay Selective Empathy: Stories and the Power of Narrative for more.