Saturday, January 3, 2015

Truth is Stranger than Fiction

I've been reading two books: Graham Greene's The Power and the Glory and Catriona Rainsford's The Urban Circus: Travels with Mexico's Malabaristas. The former is fiction, the latter fact. You'd think that would make them very different, but not really. They both have a central character, each of which is more or less constantly on the move, living hand to mouth and surviving off the kindness of strangers; one being hunted, the other seeking something. And they're both set in Mexico over a specific period of time - the former in the 1930s, the latter very recent. 
Greene's book is set during a strange time when, post-Revolution, the Mexican authorities turned against the Church. Being the good Catholic, he felt a conviction to report on it and got some funding from Longman's to spend a couple of months in Mexico in 1938, ending up writing both a work of non-fiction, The Lawless Roads (which I haven't read) and the novel in question. The latter is a cloying, claustrophobic affair and you can detect Greene's distaste for the country on every other page. It's often cited as his masterpiece but, although of course wonderfully written, I found it slight and depressing.

Five years ago, a young writer Catriona Rainsford won £200 in the Daily Telegraph's weekly travel writing competition about a thrifty trip in Bangladesh. She followed that with her first book, The Urban Circus. The Malabaristas are jugglers, fire-eaters and acrobats who perform in Mexico's plazas, crossroads and anywhere they can make a few pesos. A chance encounter led Catriona to spend two years on the road with a small band of them. It really is like a novel, truth being stranger than fiction. I found it enlightening, positive and mature beyond her years. Looking forward to her next. 

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