I wrote my book on gender equality in the Bible, The Redemption of Love, before I went to Africa for the first time. When I first heard of the great popularity of Three Cups of Tea, Greg Mortenson’s memoir of providing schools for girls in Afghanistan, I looked forward to it as a model of what might be possible for my next planned book on the impact of Biblical equality in Africa. But as I listened to my recorded copy of Mortenson’s book, I couldn’t make it past the first chapter or two. Three Cups of Tea is mostly an adventure story. I was disappointed. I’m not really interested in adventure stories, but mostly, I realized quickly that there was no way that my much tamer stories of redemption in Africa could compete with one.
When his second book, Stones into Schools, came out, the review I read said that this book was less suspense (“will they get the school built or not?”) and more about the culture. I eagerly tracked down a copy. Once again I was disappointed. I never found much anything about culture. Worse, I did not buy the descriptions of men on horseback sweeping dramatically across the plains in order to persuade Mortenson to build a school for their girls. Maybe I was too prejudiced by Ann Jones’ description of the Afghani male attitude toward girls in her book Kabul in Winter, but I just didn’t believe Mortenson’s description of heroic men “passionate about the education of girls.”
Things made sense with the April 2011 expose of Mortenson on 60 Minutes(http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2011/04/15/60minutes/main20054397.shtml), followed by Jon Krakauer’s monograph. These reports revealed that Mortenson (or his co-author) had simply made up much of his dramatic story. If it is hard for me to compete with action-packed memoir, it would be even harder to compete with fiction.
It is encouraging that so many people were so excited about Mortenson’s charity to benefit girls, even if they were lured in by misleading stories. But as I write my most stories about the impact of agape love in Africa, I know that, as profoundly compelling as they are, I can never generate this kind of excitement. Empower has a thin market. That’s just a fact of life.