The New Eco-Focused Genre You Need To Explore

Our world depends on oil. It heats our homes, it makes our cars run, and it produces electricity which we use for the majority of modern technology.

The oil industry now represents an $4.3 trillion dollar industry, affecting our economy and our society when the price of this scarce resource prices ebb and flow.

While oil prices may pose an inconvenience on our day-to-day, Americans are much less versed on the ways oil impacts and shapes the regions from where it comes from. 

Shifting the narrative of oil, the genre of Petrofiction (especially international petrofiction) makes plain and clear the real and harsh impact that the oil industry has on the societies around us. 

The Impact of Oil on Imagination & Society

There’s a reason oil has offered such little creative inspiration on young writers and artists: oil companies don’t want those creative works to exist. Scholar Wenjia Chen of Washington University in St. Louis describes this as an “oil unconscious,” or the lack of education surrounding the way oil shapes daily life and the invisibility of anti-oil works. While petroleum impacts everything from politics to the economy to culture, the adverse effects have not yet been shared widely across works of art and literature. 

Petrofiction, however, seeks to change that. Bringing imagination and truthfulness to the unspoken ways oil shaped and continues to shape our lives, Petrofiction is a much needed resistance movement to a capitalistic empire with little consideration for the people and societies it crushes for its personal benefit. 

What is Petrofiction?

Petrofiction is a budding genre, born in the 20th century with the growing hold that oil extraction had on Middle Eastern countries and its politics. In 1992, author of Cities of Salt and article Petrofictions, Amitav Ghosh, writes, “why, where there is so much to write about, has [the oil] encounter provided so imaginatively sterile?” Since then, emerging petrofiction authors have sought to answer that question, through works across Africa and the Middle East. 

International Petrofiction Novels to Add to Your TBR List

If you’re looking to see the perspective of oil on society, you need not look further than the works of the following international authors. Consider adding the following novels to your TBR list for insightful portrayals of oil’s true impact.

Cities of Salt by Abdelrahman Munif (Jordan) 

Set in a fictional portion of the Arabian Peninsula, Cities of Salt explores the transformation of a city from original discovery of oil through the 1950’s. As the landscape reconstructs itself from desert to city, the story reveals how simple Bedouin life is overtaken by modern technologies and political complexities. A story devoted to the tale of old versus new, simplicity versus modernity, and corruption of state, Cities of Salt is an all too real depiction of what many Gulf cities have encountered through the explosion of oil in modern society. 

Oil on Water by Helon Habila (Nigeria)

A 2010 novel by Helon Habila, Oil on Water follows the tale of two journalists piecing together a story that illustrates the impact of the global oil economy on the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. Set during a war fought between the oil industry and the anti-oil militants, the novel focuses on the real sufferers of the struggle: the impoverished people caught in the middle. Exploring themes of environmental pollution, violence, and oil’s economic stronghold, Oil on Water exposes the true societal impact of oil in a way that feels raw and real. 

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (Iran)

An adult graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi, Persepolis follows the journey of a young woman born in Tehran, Iran, who is forced to flee to Vienna by the end of the novel given the increased violence from the war against Iraq. The narrative follows the themes of Islamic fundamentalism, political corruption, and the violence of war.

While oil may not be at the core of the graphic novel, author Satrapi makes a point to call out the impact of oil on political corruption and a Western-backed government fueled by oil greed. 

An Emerging Genre

The proliferation of petrofiction is far from over, as writers and creatives further explore the impact of oil on society. With oil causing increasing issues both politically and ecologically, petrofiction adds a human touch to stories that otherwise feel far away and impersonal. Through petrofiction works, readers can be reminded of the all-too-important human reasons divesting from oil is the future – for both our environment and the societies impacted by oil greed.

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