Problem Stories: When Truth Isn’t Enough
Today’s refugees will spend years battling to be believed—not because they are liars but because they’re forced to make their stories fit a small set of accepted narratives, and because ‘truth’ in storytelling is a product of culture. When they arrive in Europe or America, the displaced endure increasingly arduous and narrow definitions of truth. Meanwhile, powerful voices spread provable falsehoods with impunity. Why are some narratives believed, and others dismissed as lies? What is the coded language of truth in the West? Dina Nayeri's next book will examine truth in oral histories, particularly in crisis narratives (like those of refugees), which are often told under pressure, with shame and fear distorting memories, and without sophisticated persuasive tools. She will use literary tools to capture the strange, twisted honesty of refugee narratives, challenging existing notions of the relationship between truth and facts (and the calculated use of both in private and public), and how truth is (and should be) defined and disseminated in personal histories, crisis narratives, in politics and the news.
Dina Nayeri was born during the Iranian revolution and fled the country when she was eight. She lived as a refugee for two years before being granted asylum in the United States. She writes fiction and nonfiction on displacement, the refugee crisis, and the Iranian diaspora. Her acclaimed Guardian Long Read “The Ungrateful Refugee” was one of the most widely read essays of 2017 and anthologized by Viet Nguyen in The Displaced and is now taught in schools across Germany. Winner of the 2018 UNESCO City of Literature Paul Engle Prize, Dina has won a National Endowment for the Arts grant (2015), the O. Henry Prize (2015), Best American Short Stories (2018), and was a finalist for the Rome Prize (2017). She holds an MBA from Harvard and an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Her previous two novels were translated to fourteen languages and published in twenty countries. Her work appears in the New York Times, the Guardian, the Los Angeles Times, the New Yorker, the Wall Street Journal, Granta, and many others. Her first book of narrative nonfiction, The Ungrateful Refugee, is published in 2019.