Follow Up of ‘Search for Timothy Mo’ – The second article by Anne Teoh for Beyond Thirty-Nine
In May I wrote an article voicing the concern of many readers, critics and lecturers intimate with the works of Timothy Mo about his disappearance. It is well over a month now and this article has garnered over 580 shares on Facebook and is by no means a stagnant figure but one that keeps rising; a sign that fans of Timothy Mo are following on his trail and, like me, are still wondering if the hottest writer of today has been located and have we heard any news of the recluse since my last article appeared in the May issue of Beyond Thirty Nine.
The good news I can share is that days after my article, ‘Search for Missing Timothy Mo’ appeared, I had several responses, mainly from the East and South-East Asia, of sightings and news of Timothy Mo.
Proof that the elusive writer is around came in the form of a photo of Yours Truly posing with the Dili Council team that organised the country’s literature symposium, “Dialogues of Dili ” and the writer’s article in The Independent, July 16 2014 (reproduced below). He was invited on the merit of his work, “The Redundancy of Courage,” to join in the discussion how literature can help define “the identity and reconciliation for the construction of conscience.” Truer in life than in fiction, or is it vice versa? We, as did the real life East Timorese, Virgiliano Guterres, Jose Ramos Horta, ex-president and current PM of Dili (Danu in The Redudancy of Courage) have all believed ‘Team-Uh-Tee-More’ was East Timorese, so true to life was his book; except that he had never been there before: the writer has just pushed boundaries. Hence, their Malayo-Polynesian name for him and they believe his pen name Timo thy Mo is a pun for Timor Timor – an example of the power of words rather than the cliché that fact is stranger than fiction.
Timothy Mo describes the starkness and dangers lurking in the mountainous and swamp infested ecology on Dili and its surroundings as the backdrop in his novel to recount evidence of the courage, pain and bloodshed lived during the recent invasion and insurgency in the modern history of Timor Leste. He hinted at the difficulty of transcending the violent past still present in the physical and personal scars of many of the characters in his book and among their live counterparts.
This latest Timothy Mo’s article also updates us about the complexity of political “espionage and conspiracies,” surrounding the emergence of the new nation of Dili with its strategic natural advantages. Cast in a similar historical format, it is a blast in the past of the history of the Malayan Archipelago, a replay of the 16-18 century European East Indies; except that the current players are new imperialists e.g. China, America, Australia and Indonesia wooing the East Timorese, who are a mix of East Timor indigenous and Portuguese blood. Fast forward a few centuries later and genealogy has likewise inched forward inter-racially in Dili where its people are already of mixed indigenous and other races like the Portuguese, Chinese and Australians for example. What if we have this inter-racial representations sitting at the negotiating table?
Is the content in this Independent Paper’s article indicative of Timothy Mo’s follow up story after ‘The Redundancy of Courage”?
The Redundancy of Courage succeeds as an action packed novel mirroring a range of contrasts invasion-insurgency, loafer-inspired rebel leader, tiny–mighty, guerilla warfare-modern weaponry, native–immigrant. It is a microcosm of a tiny island fighting for independence in the face of the macrocosm of demography and power. Can there be hope rising out of the ashes as Timothy Mo sees it? Can the writer draw out new representations of hope for East Timor and use his all-encompassing mind to simplify the complexity of politics in the tiny mountainous island with strategic natural advantages that unwittingly attract the powerful nations from far and near? How about looking into the history of the Malay Archipelago, the Straits Settlements and modern South East Asia for some leads and comparisons?
From this diverse mélange of local and global issues, the writer signals hope to come from the maternal line. Mo uses extended female representations to sound as harbingers of peace in the ladies of Mimi, Lady Isabel, Maria Isabel, Kirsty Sword, Amardinda, Mara and her child. Can the cast of inter-racial women and their children herald in the great “construction of conscience,” a peaceful East Timor rising like a phoenix? It’s a hope he first saw in the life saving act of “a noble Indonesian boy,” a feat, and not a co-incidence, that happened in his novel, and in the real history of Dili; a symbol of our inherent humanity, perhaps best exemplified by women and children.
We find a rare photo of Yours Truly and the Dili council members in the Independent Paper’s germane heading, “ East Timor: Timothy Mo on Hope in the Troubled Nation,” apropos to the fiction title, The Redundancy of Courage. The apprised article is a gem. It not only sheds light on a highly treasured island in a dark and unknown spot of the Pacific but it compels us to be in first hand contact with the process of a tiny nation rising up to embrace civilisation; which, in a nutshell, is what the critic Charles Foran ascribes to Mo as the intrepid writer, “out the dangerous wide world, bringing back never-before-told stories… that speak to him how the jangly 21st century is looking.” Charles also reminded us how, “without the support of the publishing industry, Timothy Mo’s great works, Renegade or Halo2 and The Redundancy of Courage, are undistributed and unread.” We can at least take comfort he has friends and support in East Timor.
I can’t wait for news of Timothy Mo’s sequel to, The Redundancy of Courage, if there’s one to come forth and dare we hope of the Lilliputian island healing and leading the mighty powers to the road of global peaceful cooperation? It would be as riveting, jocular and superbly wicked in his perky hands.
Not to lose sight of our search, what joy to see Timothy Mo, looking very slim, and older, with whitish hair and impish smile, standing with his East Timor friends. He does look thin and we hope he is well looked after and living a comfortable life with plenty of good food. At this point, we would like to hear a shout or have another of his fact file reporting from a politically intriguing corner, only if his own personal safety is not compromised.
P.S. The article, printed out below, seems built to convey ‘news from an objective source’ with integrity, staying unflinchingly transparent.
The Independent: 17 July 2014
Timothy Mo on hope in the troubled nation
The Redundancy of Courage by Timothy Mo was based on the conflict in East Timor. He finds hope still exists there.
TIMOTHY MO – WEDNESDAY 16 JULY 2014
East Timor has stopped being a cause and become a country. Consolidating nationhood is proving nearly as fraught as the bloody but relatively uncomplicated fight to expel the Indonesian invader.
On the strength of my novel The Redundancy of Courage and my review of Luís Cardoso’s The Crossing, Sofia Belmonte of the Council of Ministers invited me to attend The Dialogues of Dili.
I had never been to Dili but it was exactly as I had imagined: to the rear, green hills sharply rising; to the fore, the winding Praia beach front with the immaculate new embassies opposite the grubby sand. Across the sea, 23 miles away, but in good weather seemingly close enough to touch, loomed craggy Atauro island. I was warned not to swim. It wasn’t a joke: monster salt water crocodiles were occasionally sighted opposite the Government Palace. Dominating the Dili skyline stood the cube of the Finance Ministry, easily the tallest building in town and constructed mostly of glass, presumably as a symbol of transparency.
The only surprise came out of town. The 10,000-foot mountains were unexpectedly massive, reminiscent of the Swiss Alps, and impenetrable mists quickly rolled down them. You could still find skeletons on Mount Matebian or Ramelau where wounded FALINTIL fighters had crawled into cracks and crevices to bleed to death rather than endure the Indonesian army’s torture chambers. Just out of Dili, the narrow road East ran past unfenced chasms, hundreds of feet deep.
Our talks and lectures were ostensibly about the contribution of literature to identity and reconciliation, the “construction of conscience”, as Abé Barreto called it. The Redundancy of Courage had been hard to write. I disliked it in the way that a mother has to fight her resentment of the child who gave her the most painful birth. But, like a runaway child, this novel had been the one that had a life of its own. It had become a part of the events it purported to describe, with fact and fiction intertwining till they were indistinguishable.
My old acquaintance José Ramos-Horta, the former President and Prime Minister of Timor-Leste – he survived two rifle bullets to the body in peacetime 2008 – had visited Mohamed Nasheed, the former President of the Maldives. Nasheed had been democratically elected but ousted by the army and Islamic fundamentalists. José recounted in his blog that as they shook hands he said that he expected His Excellency had never heard of Timor-Leste. “On the contrary,” retorted Nasheed, “The Redundancy of Courage was part of my prison reading.”
The biggest surprise of all was to come. After my lecture a large and imposing figure blocked my path. It was Virgiliano Guterres, a bear of a man. “Only now do I truly know you are a real person,” he said, embracing me.
Gil had been imprisoned by the Indonesians. In jail he had read one of the many photocopies of my novel doing the rounds of Dili. He and his cellmate had been convinced it could only have been written by a Timorese. In a Malayo-Polynesian mouth my name sounds like Team-Uh-Tee-More. In obsessive and claustrophobic cell debates Gil and his comrade decided my pseudonym of Timothy Mo was a pun on Timor, Timor. And just like my novel’s narrator, Gil’s cellmate had his life saved by a noble Indonesian boy. He and Gil were convinced I had taken this true story from life and put it in the book and redoubled their belief that I was living in Dili. But it was one of those occasions where life follows art, rather than vice versa.
Timor occupied a strategic position. It sat on deep water which allowed nuclear submarines rapid transit between the Pacific and Indian oceans. The Timor Gap held huge reserves of gas and oil, bitterly disputed with Australia. Contemporary Dili seethed with espionage and conspiracies. Would the father of the nation, Xanana Gusmão, Timor’s Mandela, resign as he threatened, come September? Was it an elaborate double-bluff? Under cover of an aid package, the Australian secret service had bugged Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri’s office in 2004 (the spy who blew the whistle had his passport revoked in 2014, preventing him from testifying at the Hague).
All Timor-Leste could do was try to play the powers off against each other. The Chinese had constructed two ministry buildings for free, presumably sans microphones. Timor went to them for patrol boats instead of Australia. The war heroes had been male but the strong women of peace-time Timor impressed me now. Mimi Chungue hosted us. She was from a famous Timorese-Chinese lineage. Mimi herself had been a highly paid manager at Coca-Cola but come home. It was Mimi who got us a long audience with President Taur Matan Ruak and the First Lady and then with the Army Commander, Major-General Lere, followed by the veterans of the clandestine Dili network.
First Lady Isabel da Costa Ferreira and the Culture Secretary, Maria Isabel de Jesus Ximenes, were charmers. The First Lady was sincere, intelligent, and determined. Typical of the convoluted personal tragedies of Timor, her husband had commanded FALINTIL whose former political wing FRETILIN had murdered her father.
The former First Lady, the Australian-born Kirsty Sword Gusmão, was unassuming and dedicated. Renowned for her strength of character, as PM’s wife, she remained a national asset. So modest was she, I only realised who she was five minutes into our chat at the library that bore her husband’s name. Xanana’s sister, Armandina, a subtle poet, also gave herself no airs on the strength of her legendary brother. Armandina and I shared a tiny public van to meet Luís Cardoso at the airport. Luis’s own lover, Rosa Bonaparte, immortalised in an iconic photograph with other FRETILIN leaders in 1975, had been killed on invasion day. Mara Bernardes de Sá was Portuguese – she worked in the beautiful museum of national resistance for the Director, the formidable “Hamar”, who told me the trick under electric shock was to reveal only in dribs and drabs rather than try to stay silent. Mara’s three-year-old was already fluent in Tetum. He would be as Timorese as mountain weave.
Among the women, about the children, exists hope. It flickers perilously above public vendetta and private vicissitude but, just for now, it lives on.