Placing human rights within humanity

By Sam Ryan | 27 Aug 14

Book review by Sam Ryan

Essays From Near and Far | James Dryburgh

Essays From Near and Far coverJames Dryburgh’s Essay’s From Near and Far is not a ‘human rights book’ per se. The constant thread running throughout this collection of essays is a reflection on the nature of humanity, in which consideration of human rights are an inescapable, essential component, and central to a number of the book’s articles.

Dryburgh presents a thoughtful and thought-provoking contemplation on the human condition, our relationships with each other and our collective, intertwined relationship with the environment. Personal reflections, stories and interviews span death to birth, tie lands and people on opposite sides of an ocean, and introduce a diverse assortment of people through whom we can understand our existence better.

‘The Nature of Death’ prepares the reader to read on with the necessary perspective that we sadly too often obtain through tragedy, establishing a poignant context before the book delves into issues and ideas of life.

Touching on Indigenous issues, in ‘Austral Reflections’ Dryburgh draws the ancient geographical, geological and ecological ties between his home state of Tasmania and Teirra del Fuego in Argentina. The picture painted of these true “sister cities” is a fascinating one, depicting links, similarities and differences in experience and struggles of native populations long separated by vast body of water.

South America, along with Tasmania, is the setting of several essays and home of the people we meet through them: Salvadoran freedom fighters (‘Chico’s Story’); a Colombian former presidential candidate and political prisoner (‘Interview with Ingrid Betancourt’); the mining men and women of the Bolivian mining town of Potosí (‘A Tale of Two Mines’ and ‘Ch’alla to the Women of Potosí’), where the gap between the international wealth they create and the wealth they see themselves is as stark as anywhere in the world.

In ‘The Power of Word’, Dryburgh introduces 19-year-old Salvadoran writer Mauricio Maravilla Chavez. In what could be a question the reader would pose to Dryburgh himself, he asks Chavez why writing is so important to him. Similarly, the answer is one that could have come from either of the wordsmiths, as Chavez replies: “So people understand.”

Dryburgh continues, perhaps paraphrasing Chavez, perhaps taking his thoughts further:

“It doesn’t matter if it is nature, love, injustice or anything else you write about, the hope is that your words will create understanding.”

This presents one example of a fusion between Dryburgh and the subjects of his stories, as he becomes intimately involved in the story, not just the storytelling – curious, questioning, seeking to facilitate understanding, both within oneself and as part of a community.

What interests him is the human condition and what binds us together, rather than tears us apart. It provides for an explorative approach that raises human rights above politics, where it truly belongs.