Book of the Week: The Mountain by Drusilla Modjeska
The Mountain by Drusilla Modjeska is our new Book of the Week.
Drusilla Modjeska will be known to many for her multi-award-winning non-fiction and memoir, including Poppy, The Orchard and Stravinsky’s Lunch – her biography of Australian artists Grace Cossington Smith and Stella Bowen. Now, she’s turned her hand to fiction, with her debut, The Mountain, a sprawling narrative of love, culture and the ties of history, spanning from the 1960s through to present day.
Rika, a young Dutch photographer, arrives in Papua New Guinea in 1968, when the nation is just on the brink of independence. She’s accompanied by her husband, Leonard, an anthropologist, who has been invited to teach at the new university, as well as journey up the Mountain of the title to film the tribes that live there.
While Leonard completes his research, Rika finds herself wound deeper into the circle of people that inhabit this changed and charged nation - Laedi, a hafkast, and wife of the ambitious Don, the playwright Milton, and two Papuan brothers Aaron and Jacob. Among this lattice-work of characters, it is the enigmatic Aaron who Rika eventually falls for, and it is the repercussions of this that will tie all of them to Papua and its people in the years to come.
Although not strictly autobiographical, it’s clear that Modjeska’s own life experience informs much of the novel. After marrying anthropologist Nicholas Modjeska, the couple moved to PNG in 1967, where they remained for the next 5 years. Modjeska said in a profile in The Age over the weekend that she ‘just totally fell in love with the culture, the landscape, the people and this great sort of moment of optimism.’
The Readings special edition of The Mountain includes a quote from our very own Mark Rubbo, who recently gave the novel a rave review in the latest edition of the Readings Monthly:
‘Modjeska handles these complex relationships beautifully, setting up a fascinating world – a merging of races and cultures that has been imposed by the colonial paradigm. The tensions and expectations that build from the looming transition are at once an exhilarating and disturbing portent of things to come. Modjeska actually lived in PNG during those years, so her observations have a clarity and authenticity that make the novel sing with passion.’
A book by Booki.sh