BEHIND THE MOUNTAIN: Return to Tasmania by Peter Conrad

BEHIND THE MOUNTAIN: Return to Tasmania

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KIRKUS REVIEW

In this combination travelogue, history, and autobiography, Conrad (The Everyman History of English Literature, Imagining America) transforms an account of a homecoming into a meditation on humanity's vain attempts to make a home for itself in an indifferent world. Conrad left Tasmania, an island off the south coast of Australia, for Oxford as a young man; here, 20 years later, he revisits the island. Conrad's search for his own origins parallels an investigation into Tasmania itself. The author explores the island's landmarks (the omnipresent Mount Wellington, the Main Road, zinc mines, and apple farms), portraying the settlement's straggle against a violent and ever encroaching nature. He pieces together Tasmania's obscure history from relics in museums and interviews with local eccentrics; the paintings and literature, however, turn out to be conscious misrepresentations, as artists struggle to fabricate coherent worlds out of this ungainly and haphazard environment. Conrad is obsessed with how the human imagination shapes reality; by the end of the book, he realizes that his own self-invention, like the false images applied to Tasmania, is a delusion. Both his own escape into literature and the settler's contrived mythologies are attempts to evade an alien and alienating world. While Conrad's personifications of the landscape tend toward the florid at times both overwritten and overwrought, the bizarre reality of Tasmania often lives up to this style: the truth is "even odder" than what the imagination projects. Conrad's account of his painful personal journey to the edge of the earth and the center of himself is a somber attempt to contain anguish within the structures of language.

ISBN: 671-67373-4
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