The Mountain

Drusilla Modjeska

The Mountain
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The Mountain

Drusilla Modjeska

Read Drusilla Modjeska’s interview with Geordie Williamson about The Mountain.

“The Mountain is a truly remarkable book - lush and fascinating, it brings to life the troubled history of Papua New Guinea and the ties that link us to it. I recommend it unreservedly.” - Mark Rubbo, Readings Managing Director

An Oxford ethnologist, Leonard, travels to Papua in 1968 with his young Dutch wife, Rika, to take up a post at the university, and to further his research by filming the local Papuans in a remote village. Conservative and well-meaning, Leonard wants his camera to capture moments but not to effect any change. But this is Papua at the dawning of Independence and everything is change.


Rika forms a close knit circle of friends within the university and the town. Laedi, a hafkast, and wife of the ambitious Don; Martha, a student trying to find her own identity; and Milton, a writer who wants to emulate his hero, the author James Baldwin. But it is the two Papuan brothers Aaron and Jacob, whom Rika is most drawn to. Thirty years later, a young art historian, Jericho, travels from London to Sydney to ask Martha to write the story of his parents and his heritage. Coming home to Papua New Guinea, Jericho finds that he must reconcile his own history with the lure of the Papuan mountains and love.

Review

The Mountain opens in the heady years just prior to Papua New Guinea’s independence, a country grappling with the transition from Australian colony to independent nation. The new university is a magnet for a range of different people and has lured esteemed anthropologist and film-maker Leonard to an appointment, accompanied by his young wife Rika, an aspiring photographer. Leonard wants to research and film in a remote mountain community; Rika becomes immersed in the university, working in their darkroom and befriending staff, wives and partners, amongst them Aaron, a young academic and the first indigenous member of the university’s staff.

When Leonard completes his research and film, Rika stays to make a life with Aaron. 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.

The second half of the novel is set only a few years ago. Laedi, one of Rika’s friends, is now a Minister in a dysfunctional government. She welcomes back Jericho, the son of Leonard and a mountain girl. Jericho has lived most of his life in the UK and is now a successful art curator but feels a great need to ‘belong’ to his indigenous culture of the mountain. His journey there and personal discovery of his unique culture and the art it produces leads to a profound personal transformation and vision of hope.

The Mountain is a rich, lush and compelling novel. I recommend it unreservedly.

mark-rubbo Mark Rubbo is the Managing Director of Readings

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