Shortlisted for the 2013 Miles Franklin Literary Award
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The debut novel from an acclaimed Australian author.
In 1968 in Papua New Guinea there is excitement and violence on the streets. The country is on the brink of independence, but many Papuans are disillusioned with the pace of change, and the tension in Port Moresby is palpable. Amidst the turmoil, Leonard, an anthropologist, arrives with his alluring Dutch wife, Rika. Leonard wants to film villagers from a remote settlement in the mountains, and take Rika with him - the first white woman to go up there. But his new colleagues have other ideas.
Rika befriends two young women from the new university: Laedi, a Papuan with a local mother and Australian father, and Martha, a sweet-natured Australian student. But it is to Aaron and Jacob - two very different clan-brothers - to whom Rika is most dangerously drawn. Her relationship with these two men will change her and Leonard's lives for ever.
Thirty years later, Jericho, a young art historian, travels from London to Port Moresby to try to make sense of his muddled past, of his birthplace on the mountain in 1968, and to bring back with him the girl he has loved since he was a boy.
About the Author
Drusilla Modjeska was born in London in 1946 and raised in Hampshire, the eldest of three sisters. At twenty, she married an anthropologist, and together they left for Papua New Guinea. Her years there, including as a student at the University of Papua New Guinea, laid the basis for her enduring interest in the Pacific and in Papua New Guinea in particular. While her new novel, The Mountain, is not autobiographical, it makes use of her experience at the newly established University of Papua New Guinea.
In 1971 Drusilla Modjeska moved to Australia, and within that decade graduated with a BA (Hons) in History from the Australian National University and a PhD in History from the University of New South Wales. Exiles At Home, her first book, was published in 1981. Poppy (1990), a ‘fictional biography’ of her mother, won the National Book Council Banjo Award for Non-Fiction, the NSW Premier’s Douglas Stewart Prize for Non-Fiction and was shortlisted for the Fawcett and PEN International Awards. The Orchard (1994) also won the NSW Premier’s Douglas Stewart Award for Non-Fiction and the Nita Kibble Literary Award, as did Stravinsky’s Lunch (1999), which explored the lives of the Australian modernist artists Grace Cossington Smith and Stella Bowen.
During these years of writing and publication Drusilla Modjeska held a teaching appointment at UTS, followed by research fellowships at the University of Sydney. Although she did not return to Papua New Guinea until the 2000s, she maintained contact with many she had known during her years there.
In 2004 she was one of the first outsiders to visit the Ömie, from which The Mountain’s fictional mountain people are drawn. She now returns to PNG frequently, and has become closely involved with two communities – one on The Mountain, the other in the fjords of Cape Nelson that also feature in fictional form The Mountain.
In 2011 Drusilla Modjeska co-founded the SEAM Fund – Sustain Education Art Melanesia – in response to her experience with these communities, both of which are engaged with the fundamental challenge to remain rooted in the ground of their culture and environment while at the same time contributing to, and benefiting from, the modern post-colonial world.
Drusilla Modjeska is based in Sydney, but makes regular visits to Papua New Guinea and to London.