In fact, The Bishop, the Gypsy and the Dancing Bear is not a story about bears at all, but a story about mankind. It is a story about borders, migration and freedom. No doubt, there are now many novels about the concepts of refuge and asylum, but this novel casts the reader into the future, a future left trammelled by the passage of xenophobia and exclusion. It is a parable, of sorts, not only relevant in this country (thinly disguised as the country of Incognita), but to the developed world at large. It considers the biggest questions and insecurities of our age, one of the most poignant being this one: When we exclude the outsider, are we, in fact, imprisoning and impoverishing ourselves?
Philomena van Rijswijk is a Tasmanian novelist, poet and writer of short stories. She has been compared to both Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Ursula le Guin. Her most recent novel, The World as a Clockface, was published by Penguin Books Australia in 2001.