“Stories Can Change Hearts.”

The declarative sentence that titles this post comes from Mitali Perkins, author of the newly published Bamboo People. I’ve always loved the power of simple declarative sentences after an Honors College professor gave us War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning to read. Though intended for two very different audiences, the two books share a common thesis. Bamboo People tells the stories of two young teen boys in Burma who learn the nature of the ethnic war and what meaning it can ascribe to humanity.

Perkins wrote this story to delve into the experiences of the young involved in such heavy a conflict and show how their small moral choices could lead to some semblance of justice for all. She says, “If words were not revolutionary, the Burmese wouldn’t be banning them.” She hopes she gets on the government’s hit list. Friends who are relief aid workers will bring copies of her book into the jungles in the hopes some young guys will fall into them.

Perkins’ book brings up the age-old publishing question of “When is it appropriate to write about conflict, people of different ethnicity, and/or the occurrences in a little-understood, shrouded country?”

Perkins’ answer was that she once heard “Never write about a suffering people until you’ve held their babies.”Why? Maybe it has something to do with the connection one feels when you having a breathing, pulsing, squirming bundle of softness next to your own chest. Your life rhythm syncs with his or hers. You also hold the most innocent of the conflict; the purest of hearts. And that starts to affect your own thoughts and perceptions, until your heart is changed figuratively, if not literally.

Perkins has held infant Karenni (Burmese ethnic minority) refugees in Thailand. She has peered across the border. She has extensively interviewed her friends who have intimate knowledge of the situation. That research and familiarity contributed to a well-thought-out novel with accessible language, a strong message, and wildly beating heart.

Congratulations, Mitali. You have a wonderful book, and even if you weren’t “Mother Teresa at 25,” if your books can change the hearts of people on either side of the Burmese conflict for the better, I will nominate you for literary sainthood.


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