Since their emergence as a novel form of justice, truth commissions have magnetically drawn writers into their orbit. This essay explores one literary response that seems both logical and provocative: the thriller's shadowy world of conspiracy theories, cover-ups, and coups. As a subgenre associated with popular culture, the thriller has rarely been considered a serious player in discussions of literature in the aftermath of atrocity. However, as a space in which the mystifications of conspiracy meet the imperatives of transitional justice, the newly emergent subgenre of the truth commission thriller challenges pervasive assumptions about the necessary gravitas of literature in the aftermath of violence. Looking closely at this genre allows us to ask how its forms may help the novel envision productive alternatives to the narrative of silence so intimately linked to the writing of catastrophe. These representations emerge within the increasing globalization of transitional justice, a context that seeks intensifying degrees of communicability as it turns local legacies of violence into ones with international implications. Gillian Slovo's account of a South African amnesty hearing, Red Dust (2000), imagines itself as a competitor for the production of truth; Canadian novelist Alan Cumyn's Burridge Unbound (2000) serves as an analogue prone to similar forces of fragmentation; and David Park's vision of a fictional commission in Northern Ireland, The Truth Commissioner (2008), decenters the truth commission into a private space of multiple meanings. These novels challenge the ideal of national disclosure before the law but nonetheless hold out the hope of communicability in a global sphere.
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Shameem Black; Truth Commission Thrillers. Social Text 1 June 2011; 29 (2 (107)): 47–66. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/01642472-1259479
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