“As an anthropologist you’re always asking questions such as: How different can different peoples be? Are we all reducible to a common humanity? And if so: what is it? Nobody can answer these questions. But I like to use fiction to try to answer anthropological questions. And fiction, I find, gives better answers.”
His book The Duke of Puddledock records Nigel’s travels, literal and figurative. It is part biography, part autobiography, part natural history, part anthropology, and part travelogue.
A few weeks ago, I read about Tahmima Anam, the first Bangladeshi writer to win the Overall First Book Award at The Commonwealth Writers Prize 2008. She has a PhD in Social Anthropology from Harvard University, and an MA in Creative Writing from Royal Holloway College.
“I wrote A Golden Age because I wanted the story of the Bangladesh war to reach an international audience", she says. She travelled throughout Bangladesh, interviewing ex-freedom fighters, military officers, students, and survivors of the 1971 war. The novel is a fictionalised account of these war stories, combined with her own family history.
In an interview with the Boston Globe she explains why she wrote a novel, rather than a nonfiction book:
I felt that this was a human story that needed character and plot. I wanted it to touch people’s hearts, as the stories I had heard had touched my heart. I wanted people to have a visceral sense of what it was like to be there at that time, and I didn’t think that nonfiction, for all its beauties and virtues, could do that.
And in an interview with the Guardian she says:
After graduating from university I started a PhD in social anthropology, but really I was dreaming of writing a novel. I would sit in my lectures and scribble in the margins of my notebooks. But for a long time, I didn’t tell anyone I wanted to be a writer; it was my undercover identity. It was when I started doing the research that it became more real. I travelled back to Bangladesh and met survivors of the Bangladesh war. After hearing their stories, I felt that I really ought to take the project more seriously, and that’s when I began writing the novel in earnest.