Resistance is a fictional account of the lives of a group of people who, in opposition and defiance of an excessively consumerist society, seek a life outside the mainstream. By living among indigenous peoples, enjoying the bounties and beauties of the near and faraway lands and leading simple lives, these men and women follow their ideals that take them to the different parts of the globe in an effort to understand the world of The Other.
The story begins with art curator Owen Daniels, who lives in Paris by the cemetery in Montmartre. This proximity to the cemetery comforts him; far from being a harbinger of death, the graves remind him of the continuity of existence. One fine morning, such an existence is threatened by the arrival of a letter from the Office of Inland Security. The letter informs him that his activities have alerted the department, which now wishes to detain him for questioning. Owen immediately gets in touch with his other eight friends scattered across the world. He learns that similar letters have reached the others, too. The group then decides to disappear without a trace, but not before putting down a written record of their lives - lives that have been lived as a protest to the forces of unchecked capitalism and power. This book is that written record.
The narrative moves from Buenos Aires to Vietnam to Tanzania and India to the deserts of Takla Makan, where these Americans in self-exile navigate the environment, resist the mainstream and fight all odds to have a simple idealistic unfettered existence. From Lisa Meyer, the Buenos Aires restaurateur who puts the past of her parents’ unhappiness behind her, to Sinclair, who works as a carpenter in India and comes to terms with the horrific physical abuse of his childhood, Lopez’s characters struggle with angst and bitterness only to emerge as more resilient and compassionate beings.
Many of these people have extremely interesting lives. My favorite character in the book, Elizabeth Wangfu, masters Han Chinese and other dialects and finds a job as a translator in Urumchi, in the autonomous Xinjiang province in northwestern China near the border with Mongolia. With a Kirghiz camel trader whom she befriends, Elizabeth travels over the Takla Makan desert. The serene and soothing narrative tells of their weeks of traveling in the desert, the miles upon miles of sand dunes, the dried river beds and the abandoned oasis on their routes. There is also wonderful harmony in the conversation between Elizabeth and the Kirghiz Korbel Uklel:
“I believe our technologies, Elizabeth, these machines we now live with, are evolving, to use your word, faster than our emotions can accommodate them.”At a book reading that I attended, Elizabeth’s testimony in Lopez’s soft, deep voice made the desert seem exquisitely beautiful. The descriptions of the sand dunes and their patterns that Elizabeth identifies with music notes are so vivid and imaginative that one was almost transported there.
To which she replies,
“Do you mean, in the face of it all, in the face of everything changing, a whole way of life gone in a generation, that we have become numb?"
And Korbel’s punch line:
“I mean the speeding bus goes flying off the mountain road.”
Resistance is not your typical fictional account of people’s lives, and the people in this book are not the kind of people one would generally run into. However, it is only characters such as these that can send the powerful message that Barry Lopez intends us to get: a message that calls for a restructuring of the way our modern world operates, to accommodate nature in its diversities, so that all peoples and other ways of living too can flourish, and we may all celebrate life as a part of this beautiful world.