Thursday, June 08, 2006

Cox's Bazar


Here's another journey, courtesy of the Internet, into the realm of one of my novels. The new one Slippery When Wet plays out much of its drama in Cox's Bazar.
I find the name itself, and its spelling, evocative. The town sits alongside the world's longest beach. Streets twist around market stalls and snake charmers, Buddhist communities cling to dusty hillsides above a temple, fishermen set out in wooden craft as distinctive as ancient pirate ships with turrets in their bows.
I made my second visit to the country in 1992, specifically to gather information for the novel. It was a dramatic time. 500,000 refugees had just fled into the country from Burma. A cyclone had ripped through the country the previous year. I visited the refugee camps - and gained huge admiration for the work of Medecins sans Frontieres. I visited terrific schemes run by World Vision as well.
Versions of my book fitted those refugee experiences into their pages. One World Vision project in Dhaka makes a significant entry, but otherwise the refugees were removed to the backdrop. They swamped the story. (I tried, as the first western writer into the area, to interest the press in the story and drew a complete blank - it didn't fit their entertainment schedule at the time.)
Many of my own experiences and observations of Cox's Bazar are now part of that novel. Yet of course they become the experiences of Maggie and Sepen, the two central characters. A novel transmutes material into something grander than autobiographical memoir--opening a novel to readers is aided by first gifting your own experience to different characters. It's a way of making the material universally accessible.

A fine picture blog ... and another

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