To Write or Not to Write

March 25, 2013

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I just finished Peter Hobbs’ In the Orchard, the Swallows (which lived up to the poetic hype): the story reads like a monologue from a tortured man (who remains nameless throughout), to his life-long love whom he last saw before being sent to prison for a crime that was, in a way, thrust upon him.

In a heartbreaking moment, his life changes and we learn – through prose both deep and highly descriptive – of the years of torture and loss that he’s experienced.

Set in Pakistan, the novella opens with our narrator – recently released from prison – rescued from a ditch by the kind and scholarly, Abbas, who encourages him to reenter the world of the living. To do this, the narrator walks, everyday, to visit his family’s former orchard where he last experienced peaceful hope before his soul was, quite literally, shattered.

When I read that Hobbs is British (now living in Montreal), I was curious as to who has the right to tell stories: there is no right answer since all novelists (and writers, to some extent), create characters and settings that are partly made up. Why should it be any different for an author to make up a character from another culture? I don’t have an answer but this left me feeling a little uneasy. How did Hobbs get access to the mind of a tortured Pakistani prisoner?

However, while reading the following interview (CBC books), it seemed that Hobbs had gone through his own personal torture (albeit, of a different physical nature):

“At 23, while travelling in Pakistan, he contracted a mysterious virus that attacked his immune system and left him incapacitated for a decade with chronic fatigue syndrome and then depression.”

Hobbs then wonders:

“Would critics accuse him of cultural appropriation, or misrepresenting people in Pakistan?”

He poses an interesting question: does someone who has experienced darkness of their own have the ability to write about another type of darkness? Is all darkness the same? Can it be imagined?

Let me know if you have any thoughts and happy reading!

(For the full interview with CBC Books, please visit



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