A review of Matthew Johnson’s “Another Country” in Irregular Verbs and Other Stories (ChiZine Publications, 2014)
By Derek Newman-Stille
Matthew Johnson’s “Another Country” introduces a new way of examining refugee status and travel. Instead of just looking at travel through space, but rather travel through time and space. Johnson explores the sense of dislocation that happens temporally, over time, and therefore considers the way that cultures change as time passes and that nothing is every fixed or stuck in time. He introduces the PREfugee, the refugee from the past. “Another Country” follows Geoff, a Roman who has assimilated to modern North American society and given up the cultural traditions of his Roman past. He prefers to speak in Latin, calls himself “Geoff” instead of “Galfridus”, and encourages other voyagers through time to assimilate into their new cultural context and give up their Roman heritage.
The dislocation Johnson plays with ideas of tradition and modernity that often are applied by governmental bodies to actual refugees in our world when they are told that their traditions and cultural behaviours are “traditional” and therefore don’t apply. Assimilation is often applied by governments through the pretention of “modernity”, problematically suggesting that any culture that is not North American is “of the past”.
Johnson highlights this idea of dislocation by exploring the children of prefugees and their struggle with the question of whether to assimilate or whether to embrace Roman culture. The pressures to give up Roman culture are applied by Johnson’s imagined culture by using terminology like “Delayed Integrations” to describe people who want to keep their traditional Roman names, cultural beliefs, and the use of Latin language.
Johnson explores the fears of North American culture that it will be changed by the introduction of new cultural ideas and traditions by abstracting this onto the idea of a temporal paradox and the government desire to prevent travel back through time because it may change the path of history.
“Another Country” is a tale of loss and rediscovery, traditions and change. Johnson challenges established narratives of belonging by introducing the cultural conflict between dominant cultures and those of groups that represent a cultural minority.
To find out more about Matthew Johnson’s Irregular Verbs and Other Stories, visit ChiZine Publications’ page at www.chizinepub.com