Menno Moto by Cameron Dueck , Biblioasis The idea of travelling to find oneself should have been abandoned at the roadside long ago. Any writer travelling this well-beaten path needs to be someone extraordinary and what is sought should be worth the discovery. “I was going on an epic journey to find out who I was,” announces Cameron Dueck in Menno Moto , an account of an eight-month, 45,000km motorcycle journey from Canada to Argentina, but even he was embarrassed to reveal this motive when asked. “I answered that I liked adventure and that I wanted to learn more about Mennonite culture.” Mennonites, like the Amish, are Anabaptist Christians, who reject the baptism of all but adults. Unlike the Amish, they never had a film like the 1985 Harrison Ford vehicle Witness to bring them to public attention. They similarly live largely in segregated agricultural communities, reject modern technology (or pretend to), and speak an obscure dialect of low German called Plautdietsch, incomprehensible to those among whom they settle and from whom they demand a Privilegium – a document guaranteeing special treatment on education, military service and more. Dueck may not have rejected modern technology, but there’s something of the 19th century in observations such as, “My only steady companion was my motorcycle. I’d chosen it like a lot of Mennonites chose their wife – it was sturdy, simple, and with a long history of reliable performance.” Dueck was raised in a Canadian Mennonite community much given to schism, and finding himself will apparently involve biking to splinter communities right down the Americas, looking for qualities he has in common with their members. As soon as two or three generations of Mennonites have converted some remote virgin territory into a well-organised source of wealth and creature comforts, some of them despair at what they see as irreligious compromising of Mennonite simplicity. They move south to set up in another location, and the cycle then repeats itself. This account of hopping from one community to another is no motorcycling road movie in waiting. Although Dueck veers occasionally into descriptions of punctures, spills on muddy tracks and border-crossing bribery, the “epic journey” is not the destination. The road is merely the string on which to thread beads of descriptions of the Mennonite communities he visits. And for a “find yourself” book, Menno Moto is refreshingly free of navel gazing. The mirror he spends time staring into is a rear-view one, as he recounts the history of the Canadian community’s relocation from Russia in his great-great-grandfather’s day and its subsequent splits, each new group heading to ever more challenging territory. Dueck encounters a succession of similarities: familiar language, familiar foods and familiar mindsets. The story coasts along until, about halfway through, he opens up the throttle, writing more powerfully about Mennonite rape and incest in Bolivia. He struggles to understand how good people could go so bad, and is not entirely willing to accept they did, although it has been repeatedly demonstrated that it’s precisely in sequestered, poorly educated and strongly religious communities that the optimum conditions for these crimes are found. As a teenager he visited Mennonites in Kansas and was uneasy at their lack of “the same feeling of being under siege from the rest of the world that we were taught was the way Christians should feel if they were living truly righteous lives”. Now he’s not keen on less forgiving communities that still restrict education, shun outsiders, submit to religious over secular authority, and keep their women firmly in the background. In general, the Mennonites, with their suspicion and fear of Weltmensch (everyone who isn’t them), and not only of the godless but those who are godful in even the most marginally different way, have prejudices that make them distinctly unappealing even in Dueck’s mostly neutral descriptions. He concludes he is, after all, a Mennonite, with the cop-out, “But hey, who likes everything about their culture?” Yet it’s clear that the less orthodox the Mennonite community he visits, the more he likes it. And he started by saying, “Some parts of Mennonite culture repulsed and embarrassed me – the closed-minded slavery to rules, the thriftiness, the superior airs, the really bad sense of fashion […] I admired the ethic of hard work, the ingenuity, and ever-ready generosity towards those in need.” It seems his journey has merely been round in a circle. Cameron Dueck will appear at the Hong Kong International Literary Festival on November 14.