I have often found works of fiction explore the complexities of poverty and development in much richer detail than technocratic and sterile policy reports put out by thinktanks, the World Bank and UN. Books like the Poisonwood Bible, Acts of Faith, The Song of Lawino, The Quiet American and Cause Celeb seem to capture the moral dilemmas, politics, psychology and cultural clashes that infuse change in the developing world. No Human Development Report could ever match the descriptive power of Graham Greene or Barbara Kingsolver.
It turns out that I am not alone in preferring a good novel to the latest Famine Early Warning System report. A group of scholars associated with the Institute for Development Policy and Management at Manchester University have come up with a list of works of fiction they believe provide a rich and sophisticated portrait of poverty and development.
Their aim is to "promote the idea that fictional works of literature are as powerful - and in some instances, a better - means of communicating and understanding development."
Their original article, describing the importance of fiction to the study of development, was rejected by several development journals. However, finally published in the Journal of Development studies, the article ‘went viral’ and became a popular email forward and blog topic among aid workers, policymakers and academics working in the development sector. An accessible summary of their argument is available here.
If you are interested, click here to learn more about their project. To access their reading list, click here. To read my earlier suggestions of novels to read about Africa, click here.