Yesterday afternoon Oxford was privileged to be visited by Geraldine Brooks who is on tour to promote the paperback release of Caleb's Crossing.
Ms. Brooks spoke about how she became a novelist following her career as a journalist. She pointed out to the crowd at Square Books that yesterday was the year anniversary of Oprah Winfrey's last network show and how authors all over the world knew they'd lost one of their greatest advocates on that day. But Oprah had meant more to Geraldine Brooks than being a powerful marketing machine. Oprah's guests often told stories bordering on the fantastical. Stories that were so bizarre they had to be true like the one about a woman on a fishing trip videotaping her boyfriend catching a swordfish who was impaled in the chest by that very swordfish when it writhed in the air trying to break free of the fishing line. That woman only lived to tell the tale because the swordfish's bill struck her breast, puncturing a silicon implant and slipping on the gel which diverted the bill away from her heart.
Ms. Brooks heard that story and thought, "You just can't make that stuff up." And this is when she decided to become a novelist. However, after quoting Mark Twain on the subject, "The difference between fact and fiction is that fiction must be believable" Ms. Brooks went on to explain how every good historical fiction novel is built on an edifice of facts. The more the better. Because who would believe an entire English village would quarantine itself during the plague? Or that a medieval Jewish manuscript would survive centuries of war through the efforts of a Muslim and a Christian? Or that two Native American youths graduated from Harvard in 1665?
"Anytime people believe they are different from others there is trouble," Ms. Brooks said. "Catholics and Jews, Israelis and Palestinians, Bosnians and Serbians. They are more alike than they are unlike."
Our common humanity may seem fantastical, but it is believable and it is the best story anyone can tell.