‘How good you look,’ Martha says as they embrace, and Jericho sees the pleasure in her face. When he first came down from the mountain to Rika, barely five years old, she was the other mother. Rika and Martha. They were younger than he is now, and he thinks again of how it must have been for them, in a country that wasn’t theirs, suddenly presented with a small child to raise.
In 1968 when Rika travels to Papua New Guinea with her filmmaker husband Leonard, she feels a connection to the place, even whilst unsettled by its difference. She loves to explore and to capture the place and its people with her camera. But life on the university campus is confronting. It is a time of change for this emerging nation as it moves towards independence from colonial Australia, and there is friction between locals and visiting westerners. But it is meeting clan-brothers Jacob and Aaron that changes Riak – and her friends’ – lives for ever.
The Mountain is a moving novel, exploring both the years leading up to Papua New Guinea’s independence in 1975, and the years since, with the challenges of that independence and the impact of modernisation on this beautiful country. Having spent time in the country myself, I was struck by the familiarity of the people and the landscapes, but for those who have not visited, this will provide a wonderful perspective both of the beauty of the place and the complexities of a country finding its way. The story, too, is marvellous, with a fabulous cast of characters, and themes of grief, love and betrayal.
A beuatiful, moving and disturbing tale, spanning two generations.
The Mountain, by Drusilla Modjeska
Vintage Books, 2012
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