The best of all multi-generational sagas is yet to be written: namely the saga of the Romany diaspora. The gypsies left India a thousand years ago and wandered all the way to Central Europe where their language and culture became like no other. They are, by virtue of their resistance to private property, the most threatening minority in Europe. A big thousand-page novel from the beginning of their migration to the present difficulties in Middle Europe would be an amazing book.
Someone should write a travel book recreating the trip Mark Twain took in his satire The Innocents Abroad. It would be interesting to see a) how much Europe and “the Holy Land” have changed since the nineteenth century and b) how much our American “innocence” has failed to abate—despite the fact that we’re hardly as innocent as they were in the nineteenth century, despite the lessons of history and the easy availability of other cultures through technology, etc.
Do foreign countries have government-sponsored witness protection programs, and if so, do we ever swap with them? Maybe that guy that you buy your coffee from at the deli on the corner was a huge don in the Micronesian mafia? And a bunch of our criminals are maybe carrying suitcases on their heads for tourists hiking in Thailand?
There should be a yearly award for a elected official who makes a difficult decision based on principle rather than political expediency. The selection process would inevitably be complicated and controversial, but shouldn’t we be paying more attention to things like Governor Ryan’s decision on the death penalty in Illinois? There has been talk of him being nominated for a Nobel, but shouldn’t we have an independently awarded (meaning, awarded outside the auspices of the White House of Congress) honor to recognize these people?
Someone should gather any sort of diary or correspondence from anyone witness to the Rwandan genocide. Gourevitch’s book should be only the first of many to recount the horrors of the conflict, and trace its origins and the future of the country. Actually, come to think of it, we don’t seem to have, or perhaps we just don’t know about, accounts from those who witnessed atrocities in Cambodia, Kosovo, Haiti…. It would seem to be a worthwhile project for someone to produce oral histories of any of those events, or even a series of oral histories. Could call it Witness.
Another project that might involve oral history: What becomes of those who have been falsely accused, imprisoned and now freed with the help of DNA evidence? In some instances, as with the Central Park jogger case, the defendants have been in jail fifteen years or more. What goes through their minds, all those years, and especially now? What could ever quell the rage they must feel? And on a basic level, how do they build a new life now? We should know more about this.
Someone should write a short cultural study on then-famous ersatz Chinese magician “Chun Ling Soo” (William E. Robertson), who performed in the early part of the twentieth century, and at the same time, about the invention, by Americans, of “chop suey.” There could be a movie about Chun Ling Soo and in the quietly climactic scene you could have him eating a plate of chop suey and musing on its origins.