Finding the Empathetic Genre A Critique of Love and Heroism in Mirza Waheed’s The Book of Gold Leaves

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Arnad Dutta Roy

Abstract

Empathy scholars not just show that when effortfully cultivated, empathy can be recruited for out-grouping, they also assert that literatures, through complex narrative building and perspective taking, can foster a reader’s willingness to simulate the thoughts/feelings of others. Nonetheless, these scholars insist that not all literatures have the same effect on readers. While some such as the romance (that seeks the union of lovers) are more suited for cross-cultural empathy, others like the heroic plot (that celebrates a hero’s ethnocentric victories) strengthen in-groupism. Adopting this theoretical framework, I examine Mirza Waheed’s The Book of Golden Leaves, a modern romance set in the backdrop of occupied Kashmir. The novel explores the Kashmir conflict from the perspectives of a local couple, Faiz and Roohi, as they negotiate their romantic union through obstacles including communal strife, their own ideological positions on Kashmir, and the broader political turmoil in the valley. My goal in this article is to see whether the novel, as a romance, can truly extend an empathetic view to the pain experienced by the diverse residents of the valley or whether it gets built into a heroic plot that ultimately favors a nationalistic political agenda (Indian or Pakistani). This study facilitates fresh ways of exploring empathy and literature and provides insights into understanding the Kashmir conflict.

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