Ben Doherty
Nagaland 
Wild Dingo Press, Melbourne, 2018
ISBN-13: 978-0648066378

Nagaland

 

"Nagaland is a poignant and evocative story which paints an intoxicating portrait of loss as ancient tribal cultures collide with the modern state of India."

Said to be inspired by a true story, Nagaland is award-winning journalist Ben Doherty's first novel and tells the story of a young Naga man, Augustine, as he struggles to come to grips with his own identity and place in the world.

A little background may be helpful. The Naga are an Indigenous people, consisting of several different tribes, who live in mountainous country in the far north-east of what is modern India. Predominantly Christian, they have suffered significant discrimination and some of them have taken up arms in a long and ongoing struggle for self-determination - as Doherty writes, "a free nation for the Naga people".

Using the framing device of a friendship Doherty strikes up with Augustine while working as a foreign correspondant in India, we encounter Augustine's story as that of someone caught between two worlds - the world of his tribe, the Tangkhul, and that of the India that surrounds them.

We hear of Augustine's childhood as his mother Liko tries to keep the family together while his father Luke struggles to come to terms with his own heritage, battling the temptations of alcohol and drugs. And how, as he is confronted with both harshness and kindness in the wider world, Augustine finds himself facing tough questions about who he is - and who he wants to be.

The narrative actually cleverly weaves two distinct threads together - the first is that of Augustine's journey into manhood and the struggles he faces, while the second is that of a love story which unfolds in his later life. Both are integral to his story and there's a strong sense of inevitability as the two strands come together toward the book's end.

Nagaland is a poignant and evocative story which paints an intoxicating portrait of loss as ancient tribal cultures collide with the modern state of India.

Well worth taking the time.