A literary masterpiece of astounding intellect and candour
In his first major prose work since 2002’s Broken Song, Barry Hill has written an epic – a travel book, a history book, a peace book. His odyssey begins with a pilgrimage to Bodhi Gaya in India, where the Buddha received enlightenment and ends after he reaches Nagasaki, Japan, in the aftermath of its atomic bomb.
His travelling is imbued with the life and ideas of India’s great artist and intellectual Rabindranath Tagore, along with that of MK Gandhi. Hill then travels, like Tagore, in Japan, and meditates on its militarist turn, its warmongering Buddhism and the Tokyo War Crimes Trial, with its riddled post-colonial legacy. He presents a meditation on the long history of bombing, and the terrifying role of the aeroplane, of which Tagore was prescient. He goes to Zen temples, secret islands, and into some of the recesses of Japanese history, all the while musing on his own capacity for inner-disarmament. Hill also has his late father with him, a union man and Australian peace activist, whose left-humanism may not be enough for the wars and ruins the West has recently created.
Peacemongers has groundbreaking historical work on Tagore's Buddhism, the mind-states of those who dropped the atomic bombs, and the role of Justice Radhabinod Pal, the dissenting judge and Hindu law scholar at the Tokyo War Crimes Trial.
The discourse of this work – poetic, mobile, ambivalent – seeks to be an antidote to the political impotence of progressive thought over the last decade. But Peacemongers does not simply peddle hope, although hope can be found here, in its quality of scrutiny.