Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Into Thin Air

The controversy of yet another celebrated and popular book, Three Cups of Tea, representing as more fancy than fact is once again demonstrating that the art of writing owes much to the imagination. Imagination and the artful embroidery of events to suit the purpose of the writer. This is, after all, what writers do.

It isn't supposed to be what writers do, in the popular imagination. Which is somewhat to science what the detailing of real-life adventure and experience is supposed to be. In science, when someone hatches a theory and convinces himself that he has to prove it through constructing experiments designed to prove the theory, this is falsification of the very essence of science.

When someone writes a book recounting his experiences upon which he bases an argument for the world at large and generous donors in particular to become seriously involved in good works and charity, readers must depend upon the veracity of his account if he is to realize their support.

Greg Mortenson's book grew a huge readership and convinced people that they must respond in assistance of providing Afghan girls with educational opportunities. His description of his experiences in the mountainous regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan, his abduction by Taliban in Waziristan earned him respect by the U.S. military elite.

An adventurer-climber, he began with his K-2 experience, and his gratitude to villagers in a remote Afghanistan village earning his determination to provide their children with a school and learning opportunities. His commitment spread to other tribal communities, and his idea of educating girls in fundamentalist Islamic villages caught the imagination of donors.

Except that there was an expose on television that seemed to cast real doubt on Mr. Mortenson's claims when a research team discovered that schools were closed or were being used for storage, or taken over by the village itself to teach their young. And none other than mountaineer Jon Krakauer of Everest fame, a formidable adversary if actual events be fouled also cast doubts on the original village incident.

So the issue now is whether the account in Three Cups of Tea is entirely fraudulent, written to serve a specific purpose; the achievement of fame and fortune, or whether, despite some critical details having been embellished and dates reversed, the uplifting charitable venture of financing schools for Afghan children should continue.

If wealthy donors are looking for places where their charitable dollars might do some good, the financing of schools for children in Afghanistan is as good as any. Even if some of them end up as storage sheds for animal feed.

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