Michael Palin’s ‘The Truth’ – A Fiercely Cozy Novel

And one that isn’t afraid to hit hard where it’s important.

When I first heard about this book, I wondered if it was semi-autobiographical. Obviously, Palin is going to incorporate his travel experiences into this book. He should! That’s what travel does, it opens up your mind, it educates, and makes you want to share what you’ve learned. But for some reason, we find it more wonderful when the protagonist is not at all like the author – as far as we know – and there’s a strange tendency toward dismissal when there is “too much” parallel. Like Stephen King’s protagonists typically being authors. Same for Mabbut, and such, we’re sure many of his thoughts are the same as Palin’s. Perhaps it pulls us out of the area of suspended disbelief, even for realistic fiction, and we resent the author for calling our attention to reality?

In any case, there are definitely good points in The Truth (without going too political). Good characters, a sense of drive in terms of plot progression that I often find to be missing in adult fiction, and a call to action toward helping our fellow man. The inherent problem with the latter, of course, is that Mabbut – and Palin – are white. They can never fully understand the problems of the native Indians, and everything has a slight tinge of White Savior complex. To be fair, Palin has traveled farther and seen more than many of us ever will. His travelogues are famous – or infamous – for their appeal to the armchair traveler, but they are undeniably real and educational. The matter-of-fact (yet gentle) way they deal with different lifestyles and his genuine white man reactions make me take a good look at my own views and open my mind a bit more. Are there racist, sexist, and xenophobic elements? Sure, especially in the beginning. It’s part of the learning process, filtering that stuff out, and Palin does rely on stereotypes for the sake of humor, admittedly very rarely. The most poignant episode of one of his documentaries – if not practically any documentary ever – is the dhow sequence from Around the World in 80 Days. In which the cultural, social, and racial lines were erased, and there was a faint, but true sense of pure equality. It was a turning point in the series, and I believe also for Palin, whose approach toward foreigners changed from polite respect to full on acceptance and gratitude.

Palin isn’t trying to solve the world’s problems with The Truth. It’s not a grand dissertation on political discourse. It’s a fictional story that tells of very true reality. Readers’ reactions range from the apathetic, to the outraged (rightly or wrongly), to those who exactly fit Melville’s descriptions. If anything, it raises awareness; whether you want to do something about it remains your choice. Palin is merely the narrative messenger.

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