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Winner of The Victorian Prize for Literature, and the Prize for Non-Fiction, Victorian Premier's Literary Awards 2019 Where have I come from? From the land of rivers, the land of waterfalls, the land of ancient chants, the land of mountains... In 2013, Kurdish journalist Behrouz Boochani was illegally detained on Manus Island. He has been there ever since. People would run to Winner of The Victorian Prize for Literature, and the Prize for Non-Fiction, Victorian Premier's Literary Awards 2019 Where have I come from? From the land of rivers, the land of waterfalls, the land of ancient chants, the land of mountains... In 2013, Kurdish journalist Behrouz Boochani was illegally detained on Manus Island. He has been there ever since. People would run to the mountains to escape the warplanes and found asylum within their chestnut forests... This book is the result. Laboriously tapped out on a mobile phone and translated from the Farsi. It is a voice of witness, an act of survival. A lyric first-hand account. A cry of resistance. A vivid portrait through five years of incarceration and exile. Do Kurds have any friends other than the mountains?


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Winner of The Victorian Prize for Literature, and the Prize for Non-Fiction, Victorian Premier's Literary Awards 2019 Where have I come from? From the land of rivers, the land of waterfalls, the land of ancient chants, the land of mountains... In 2013, Kurdish journalist Behrouz Boochani was illegally detained on Manus Island. He has been there ever since. People would run to Winner of The Victorian Prize for Literature, and the Prize for Non-Fiction, Victorian Premier's Literary Awards 2019 Where have I come from? From the land of rivers, the land of waterfalls, the land of ancient chants, the land of mountains... In 2013, Kurdish journalist Behrouz Boochani was illegally detained on Manus Island. He has been there ever since. People would run to the mountains to escape the warplanes and found asylum within their chestnut forests... This book is the result. Laboriously tapped out on a mobile phone and translated from the Farsi. It is a voice of witness, an act of survival. A lyric first-hand account. A cry of resistance. A vivid portrait through five years of incarceration and exile. Do Kurds have any friends other than the mountains?

30 review for No Friend but the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison

  1. 4 out of 5

    Linda

    Begin mandatory reading. End mandatory detention.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Bram

    For three days I have been locked inside a hell that I can still barely fathom, one that I experienced on the page, but that Behrouz Boochani and his fellow prisoners on Manus Island have lived for over five years. What's worse was the knowledge that we have all been made accomplice to their suffering. No Friend But The Mountains is a masterpiece of prisoner literature, up there with Solzhenitsyn and Levi (and no, I'm not going the Godwin's Law route, but I had visceral shivers reading some of t For three days I have been locked inside a hell that I can still barely fathom, one that I experienced on the page, but that Behrouz Boochani and his fellow prisoners on Manus Island have lived for over five years. What's worse was the knowledge that we have all been made accomplice to their suffering. No Friend But The Mountains is a masterpiece of prisoner literature, up there with Solzhenitsyn and Levi (and no, I'm not going the Godwin's Law route, but I had visceral shivers reading some of the familiar conditions in that hellhole). Moreover, it is an instant Australian classic. Probably the most important book published here this century. The prose is stunning, the poetry sublime. It is dignified and courageous, honest and excoriating. And yes, it is heartbreaking. I urge everyone to read it, to know what is happening in our names, but also to experience a book like nothing you are ever likely to have read before. And remember, for many of us, Behrouz was our grandparents, or our parents. Fleeing persecution, yearning for freedom in a land fabled for its warmth and kindness. In this time of fear and division, let us all work instead towards a more compassionate, welcoming Australia.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Marchpane

    Winner of The Victorian Prize for Literature, and the Prize for Non-Fiction, Victorian Premier's Literary Awards 2019 Kurdish journalist Behrouz Boochani fled persecution in Iran in 2013. He attempted to make his way to Australia by boat but was instead captured and imprisoned on Manus Island in hellish conditions for five years. This book was tapped out in thousands of text messages in Farsi, and translated into English by Omid Tofighian. Any review here is bound to be totally inadequate. How do Winner of The Victorian Prize for Literature, and the Prize for Non-Fiction, Victorian Premier's Literary Awards 2019 Kurdish journalist Behrouz Boochani fled persecution in Iran in 2013. He attempted to make his way to Australia by boat but was instead captured and imprisoned on Manus Island in hellish conditions for five years. This book was tapped out in thousands of text messages in Farsi, and translated into English by Omid Tofighian. Any review here is bound to be totally inadequate. How do you put a star rating on someone’s suffering? All I can do is try to give potential readers a general idea of what to expect from this book. “Can it be that I sought asylum in Australia only to be exiled to a place I know nothing about? And are they forcing me to live here without any other options? I am prepared to be put on a boat back to Indonesia; I mean, the same place I embarked from. But I can’t find any answers to these questions. Clearly, they are taking us hostage. We are hostages – we are being made examples to strike fear into others, to scare people so they won’t come to Australia. What do other people’s plans to come to Australia have to do with me? Why do I have to be punished for what others might do?” Boochani chooses to present his account in a literary, poetic and idiosyncratic style. It’s a departure from the straightforward reporting of his journalism. The style is often feverish and sometimes frustrating when there are factual gaps – but any reader can resolve those gaps with some additional online research. Boochani more than succeeds in his aim to not just report the events but to convey the human experience and the depths of his personal torment. His narrative voice is bitter and angry (righteously so) and it is at times overwhelming to be inside his head. Numerous sections throughout have been rendered as verse, which interestingly, appears to be a choice by the translator in order to retain the poetic resonance of the original Farsi. Some of these verse sections make striking poems in their own right, like this one: When humans struggle over territory / It always reeks of violence and bloodshed / Even if the conflict is over a location the size of one body / On a small boat / And only for a period of two days. No Friend But the Mountains is an astonishing first-hand account of the national disgrace that is Australia’s recent treatment of asylum seekers on Christmas Island, Manus Island and Nauru. A powerful, eye-opening and unforgettable book.

  4. 4 out of 5

    PattyMacDotComma

    UPDATE JULY 2020 Boochani has just been given formal refugee status in New Zealand and granted a visa to live there! 5★ “My mother always sighed and would say: ‘My boy, you came into this world in a time we called the flee and flight years.’” In his poem, “The Charge of the Light Brigade”, Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote of the disastrous ride of the 600 into the Valley of Death: “Cannon to right of them, Cannon to left of them, Cannon in front of them volleyed and thundered; Stormed at with shot and sh UPDATE JULY 2020 Boochani has just been given formal refugee status in New Zealand and granted a visa to live there! 5★ “My mother always sighed and would say: ‘My boy, you came into this world in a time we called the flee and flight years.’” In his poem, “The Charge of the Light Brigade”, Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote of the disastrous ride of the 600 into the Valley of Death: “Cannon to right of them, Cannon to left of them, Cannon in front of them volleyed and thundered; Stormed at with shot and shell. . . ” But for the Kurds, living in Kurdistan, (now mostly part of Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and Syria), they weren’t riding into the Valley of Death. They were being squeezed up into the hills during the war between Iran and Iraq – the flee and flight years. Boochani is an Iranian Kurd. “A time when people would run to the mountains from fear of the warplanes. Everything they had and could carry they took with them. They found asylum within chestnut oak forests. Do the Kurds have any friends other than the mountains? Horrified mothers . . . mothers wrapped their children within the instincts of motherhood and escaped to the mountains.” Map of Kurdish areas I am also horrified. The first part of the book nearly finished me, where he describes why he needed to flee Indonesia (after he escaped that far) and then why he set off to sea for Australia a second time in 2013. Some choice: “I am like a soldier caught between crossing a minefield or being a prisoner of war.” He chooses the minefield. “No-one utters a sound. The Sri Lankan baby silently clings to its mother’s breast – gazing but not feeding. The slightest sound or cry could ruin everything. Three months of wandering displaced and hungry in Jakarta and Kendari. Everything depends on silence. This final phase. On the beach. . . . In the midst of the fracas, as the women and children try to settle into their hard and uncomfortable positions, the boat takes off; like a heavily pregnant mare cantering carefully across a dark prairie of water. We are on our way to Australia.” Families, babies, shouting, screaming, crying, going crazy. Storm, waves, sinking boat, only for them to end up exhausted in Australia’s “care” at the so-called “processing” centres on Manus Island (men only) or Nauru. Map showing Indonesia, PNG, and Australia. Note Christmas Island, Manus Island, Nauru. Boochani writes of his years on Manus, during which the numbers increased, the crowding worsened, the food worsened or disappeared, the toilets were increasingly blocked, the ankle-deep pools of sewage to wade through around the toilet/shower blocks deepened, the self-harm worsened, and the medical attention was almost non-existent. A paracetamol or a bottle of warm water was prescribed for everything. I will make no attempt to summarise his thoughts, but I will quote another passage that I think describes the result of such inhumane treatment. “My earliest childhood memories are of warplanes ruthlessly raiding the skies. . . . However, this was considered to be the most painless and most gracious form of death. Even for me, it seems to be the most peaceful way to die, a scenario where one is totally annihilated in an instant.” Boom! It would be all over. Like dying in your sleep – but not really. The Kurds are often considered stateless people, but there is no question about the Rohingya. I can understand how a bomb could seem appealing. It is the Australians who come off as the bad guys, and I mean bad, seriously bad. They monitor every action and crack down hard if there’s been a breach of the rules. And beat, and torture, but I'll skip that. Here’s an example you wouldn't expect, but it's just one of many. Every inmate was allowed 200mls of milk – if milk happened to be offered that day. The chef poured it really, really carefully, and if it weren’t quite full would add a few drops. But, if the chef had poured too much, the cup was set aside and a new one poured. Set aside? “There is a stupidity in this practice, and by the end of breakfast the few cups of milk that are filled a little over halfway accumulate at the side of the counter. At the end of the shift the cook throws out all the spoiled milk.” WHAT?? Unbelievably petty and demoralising. Just like the constant queuing and the sudden changing of schedules for phone time, etc. Anything that can pull the rug out from under you will be pulled. Boochani calls it the Kyriarchal System, a term borrowed from feminism to describe a social system of oppression, domination, and submission. Sounds about right to me. Boochani is a journalist and poet. Each chapter is introduced with some poetry, and there are many poetic passages and turns of phrase. It is beyond me how he has kept his soul intact and his imagination alive, but I suspect it’s poetry that has saved him. He would lean back on a chair and prop his feet up on the fence and imagine. “Every time the Manusian moon appears, it is adorned with another rare and differently coloured halo. These auras are a spectacular gift, combining in the equatorial sky with a sea of eternal clouds.” Some poetry introduces chapters or thoughts and is written in italics with slash/stroke marks between the phrases. Here's a different take on the moon when it goes into hiding. “The darkness is increasingly encroaching / The moon hides itself behind the dark skin of the night / In the grip of hopelessness I also experience joy / See, with the disappearance of the moon I feel more secure / Sometimes ignorance of the truth brings tranquillity.” I don’t think it’s intended to mean this, but that last line is how Australians manage to live with what our Government is doing in spite of our obligation to refugees. Ignorance brings tranquillity. Wonderfully written and sent by text message to his dedicated and talented translator, Omid Tofighian, I can only agree with what one of my favourite authors has said: “I hope one day to welcome Behrouz Boochani to Australia as what I believe he has shown himself to be in these pages. A writer. A great Australian writer.” Richard Flanagan, 2018 Richard Flanagan wrote the Booker Prize-winning The Narrow Road to the Deep North, and I must say that I agree with his comments in the introduction to this that conditions on Manus are reminiscent of those on the Burma Railway. What on earth is our excuse? On a personal note, the references to the moon reminded me of the wonderful little song, "Somewhere Out There" from the animated feature “An American Tail”. It reminds me that we are all part of the same world, and even when separated by distance and circumstances, we are always connected somehow to those we care about. I hope you’ll forgive me if this seems frivolous. It isn’t meant to be. (The story is about a Russian mouse family going to America, and Feival and Tanya Mousekewitz sing to the moon. ) Here’s a link. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Smc5F... P.S. Boochani has won $125,000 in Australian literary awards but can't come to collect it. https://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/... A fellow reader has given me a link to a good interview with the author. https://pen.org/the-pen-ten-with-behr... (Read Feb 2019)

  5. 5 out of 5

    Nikola Leka

    This is a masterpiece. It is unique in the prison literature- tapped out in Farsi on a mobile phone from Australia's offshore version of Guatanamo- Manus Island prison, where successive Australian governments have imprisoned innocent people without charge indefinitely. The first three chapters are absolutely harrowing, a pace that has your heart hammering and your hands sweating with anxiety and fear- and then in flips into a description of the gratuitous cruelty of the insane system that rules t This is a masterpiece. It is unique in the prison literature- tapped out in Farsi on a mobile phone from Australia's offshore version of Guatanamo- Manus Island prison, where successive Australian governments have imprisoned innocent people without charge indefinitely. The first three chapters are absolutely harrowing, a pace that has your heart hammering and your hands sweating with anxiety and fear- and then in flips into a description of the gratuitous cruelty of the insane system that rules the prison. The concept Boochani draws on is the Kyriarchy. Then it twists into a dreamlike sequence - from a dream to a sequence of events that end in a tragic and brutal murder. Throughout the book the translator Omid Tofighian has done a beautiful job in weaving literary devices from Kurdish folklore and Persian literature- his notes at the beginning and end of the book are well worth the read, as how the book came into being is a miracle. It will stand out in the prison literature because of its uncompromising- at times difficult to take- honesty, and also because of its inner beauty despite . the horrors of the setting

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jenna

    "We are a bunch of ordinary humans locked up simply for seeking refuge." No Friend but the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison is a devastating read, an infuriating read, but it is a story that urgently needs to be heard.  It is a haunting and horrific account of one refugee's experience being locked up in an Australian prison (oops, sorry, a processing Centre).   When Behrouz Boochani, a Kurdish Iranian journalist, had to flee his homeland, he made his way to Indonesia and from there got passage "We are a bunch of ordinary humans locked up simply for seeking refuge." No Friend but the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison is a devastating read, an infuriating read, but it is a story that urgently needs to be heard.  It is a haunting and horrific account of one refugee's experience being locked up in an Australian prison (oops, sorry, a processing Centre).   When Behrouz Boochani, a Kurdish Iranian journalist, had to flee his homeland, he made his way to Indonesia and from there got passage on an old boat set for Australia. Instead of being welcomed and given asylum, the Australian authorities sent Behrouz to Manus Island where they illegally kept him in horrific conditions for years, along with hundreds of others, including children. Behrouz laboriously wrote this book in the form of text messages sent from the island. He describes what it was like on Manus Island, what it was like to be locked up for no reason other than wanting to find a safe place to live. What it is like to have all your freedoms stripped away and treated inhumanely. To be kept in miserable conditions for years, to suffer atrocities, never knowing when it would end. With passionate and poetic prose, Behrouz describes these lost years of his life, the subtle and not-so-subtle torture he and others endured. All because they were seeking a better life.  There are many poems interspersed throughout the book. It is a memoir that also philosophically analyzes the prison complex and the mentality of both prisoner and guard. He explores the psychology of the prisoner, how he must adjust his mindset in order to survive. I loved the first half of the book, the rhythmic way in which it is told. However, by the second, I began to find it all a bit monotonous. Of course, life would be monotonous for the prisoner and so this makes sense. After finishing the book and looking online, I learned that the Manus Regional Processing Centre was formally closed in 2017, though some of the detainees remained on the island until 2019. Others were transferred to the island of Port Moresby to await shipment back to their countries of origin. I was relieved to learn that Behrouz Boochani was, in November 2019, given a one-month visitor's visa to New Zealand to attend a conference. As of the writing of this review, he remains there on an expired visa. I imagine the pandemic has kept him in place, but I can't understand why the New Zealand government has not extended his visa.  Hopefully by the time it is safe to travel again, those in charge will find some sympathy and concern for this man and grant him asylum in their country. If we are unable to find our common humanity now that this virus poses a direct threat to all of us, no matter our country of origin, we will never find it.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Neale

    WINNER OF THE 2019 ABIA GENERAL NON-FICTION BOOK OF THE YEAR. It is nothing short of a triumph of human spirit and resilience in the face of insurmountable odds that I am sitting here reading this book, in its current format, in English. This wonderful book was compiled over time, translated from Farsi, and smuggled out of Manus Island from thousands of text messages thumbed out on a mobile phone. It chronicles the downright, horrible, despicable, conditions on Manus Island and the inhumane treat WINNER OF THE 2019 ABIA GENERAL NON-FICTION BOOK OF THE YEAR. It is nothing short of a triumph of human spirit and resilience in the face of insurmountable odds that I am sitting here reading this book, in its current format, in English. This wonderful book was compiled over time, translated from Farsi, and smuggled out of Manus Island from thousands of text messages thumbed out on a mobile phone. It chronicles the downright, horrible, despicable, conditions on Manus Island and the inhumane treatment, causing pernicious damage to its inmates. This is a book that the Australian Government would have tried desperately to stop or censure if they had known of its existence. Inmates being treated little better than prisoners of a non-existent war. Every freedom taken away from them. When some prisoners try to set up a simple backgammon board to pass the time even this is taken away by the guards. Now what possible purpose could they have for taking this board away and denying the prisoners any creature comforts at all, other than the fact that they want them to return to whichever of the numerous conflicts that they were fleeing from. For many of them, this would mean certain death. The Australian Government wants to send a clear message that this is what will happen if you try to enter the country by way of these people smugglers. The people smugglers are the Government’s “silver bullet”. The line that the incumbent Prime Minister loves to spout. “We are doing this to shut down the people smugglers!”. I think the Australian public is smart enough to know that the problem is far more nuanced than that. Boochani describes the horrible cramped conditions in a paradoxically poetic way. This book does not read like a journalist’s front page story, and this makes it even more powerful. The oppressive heat, the lack of anything to stimulate a human being at all. Can you imagine living in such conditions without knowing how long you were going to be held, with each day despair indelibly growing. Knowing that you have committed no crime, you were just trying to save the lives of your daughter, your son, your family. Imagine the feeling of elation when you realise you have escaped death from drowning, cramped to the gunwale on a boat that can barely stay afloat, it’s pumps failing, only to have that feeling ripped away from you and replaced with desolation as you are locked up on an island in the middle of nowhere. To make a diabolical situation even worse this transfer of refugees to Manus Island came into effect four days before Boochani was picked up. I believe everybody should read this book and learn what is going on with the whole situation on Manus Island. Yes, it is a difficult problem in the modern world, and yes terrorism is a clear and present threat but there must be a better solution than this system. It is inhumane, cruel, and stealing away any dignity that these poor people have left. We cannot simply bury our heads in the sand and think this is not our problem. Some of these people have been locked up on Manus Island for five years now. European countries and their leaders have taken risks. Germany and Merkel in particular. When it comes to human lives solutions must be found, risks must be taken. It is high time we set this wrong right and this powerful book is a tool to be used in the struggle. A brilliant book and Behrouz Boochani should be commended and applauded for the struggle in writing it and getting it into our hands. 5 stars.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Cassandra

    This is not a well-written book on any measure I can think of. As memoir, it reads like an adolescent’s diary, with all the expected melodrama and awkward word play. As journalism, it fails to provide any context, objectivity, or nuance. As poetry, it made me cringe. Very disappointing because, based on reviews and buzz, I was expecting to love this book. Would be 1-star but the story of how it was written—in WhatsApp messages from the Manus Island detention centre—coupled with the sheer importa This is not a well-written book on any measure I can think of. As memoir, it reads like an adolescent’s diary, with all the expected melodrama and awkward word play. As journalism, it fails to provide any context, objectivity, or nuance. As poetry, it made me cringe. Very disappointing because, based on reviews and buzz, I was expecting to love this book. Would be 1-star but the story of how it was written—in WhatsApp messages from the Manus Island detention centre—coupled with the sheer importance of testimonials from refugees detained there, makes this an important book nonetheless. I expect people are rating this book on ideological rather than literary grounds, and maybe that’s okay.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Scott

    My government tortures people. The government I fund with my taxes, the government that represents me as an Australian citizen, locked innocent people in a brutal, spirit crushing offshore gulag with the express purpose of breaking them physically and emotionally. That is the inescapable conclusion any reasonable reader will reach after finishing Behrouz Boochani’s No Friend but The Mountains. Who are these people who were so poorly treated? Refugees. The weakest of the weak. People fleeing war, op My government tortures people. The government I fund with my taxes, the government that represents me as an Australian citizen, locked innocent people in a brutal, spirit crushing offshore gulag with the express purpose of breaking them physically and emotionally. That is the inescapable conclusion any reasonable reader will reach after finishing Behrouz Boochani’s No Friend but The Mountains. Who are these people who were so poorly treated? Refugees. The weakest of the weak. People fleeing war, oppression and mistreatment with nothing but their dwindling savings and a bag of clothes. Why did my government treat them so harshly? To make a political point. To make soft men and women – mollycoddled government ministers with chauffeured cars, pharaonic salaries and lavish daily meal allowances - look like tough people of action. To distract the Australian public from other, less easily dealt with issues. For these tawdry prizes desperate people were broken, and in some cases killed. No Friend but The Mountains tells the story of these people, through Boochani’s own experiences as a prisoner of Australia in Manus Island Prison. But this is more than a prison story, as worthy an entrant to that genre as it is. While Boochani's book deserves to be shelved along with classics of the genre such as The Gulag Archipelago, it is not the unremittingly bleak parade of dehumanization and petty bureaucracy it has every right to be. Boochani has a writer’s soul, and he writes with insight and beauty of the things he saw. This isn’t just the story of the people who suffered and died under Australia’s care – is is the story of a thinker and a poet who survives the worst that a grinding system can throw at him remains a feeling, dreaming human being. As we follow Boochani through his time in prison his wry eye for detail brings out the absurd and human among both the people he shares his cells with and the wardens who lock them up. From ‘The Cow’ - the inmate who is always (at any cost) the first in line for the dining queue, through to the Papuan guards whose hearts are not in oppressing the inmates, who show kindnesses the Australian guards discourage. We see Boochani in his near-fatal attempts to reach Australia from Indonesia. We see him imprisoned, arriving mere days after Australia’s government declares that boat arrivals will never be allowed to settle in Australia. We see him underfed in prison, promised dental care that never comes, sweating at night in a tropical sauna where the power to the meagre fans regularly fails. Meanwhile, we watch as prisoners are constantly asked to sign deportation papers, to return home to what for some will be imprisonment, for others, a death sentence. Some break, unable to take imprisonment any longer, and take up the pen. Eventually, we see the prisoners began to chafe under their poor treatment, and to demand better conditions, their agitation leading to the violence that is inevitable when you systematically take away people’s hope. Along the way Boochani’s gift for lyrical writing and poetry is ever-present, his beautiful imagery lifting things above the sordid crimes being committed against him and his fellow prisoners. The fact that this book was written from prison, via text message, and translated from Kurdish to English, makes it all the more impressive. It is essential reading for every Australian and anyone concerned with the rights of refugees. I usually hesitate to call any book an instant classic, but that is what No Friend but The Mountains is. This book is a landmark, a burning, incandescent indictment of what Australia has done to refugees under its care, and a work of insight and beauty in its own right. Five stars. P.S: Boochani has since escaped from Manus Island, spirited to New Zealand by allies and friends. He no longer has to endure the indignities of Australia’s Gulag.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Claire

    My friend Maggie said it best in her review of this book- it feels wrong, inappropriate even to give a star rating to someone’s story of human suffering like this. So in that sense, my rating is not an expression of the quality of this narrative, but the significance of this text. No Friend But the Mountains is an important story, about refugee experience in Australia. It is a harrowing story, and one which we must engage with critically, in order to restore humanity, to the way we treat those w My friend Maggie said it best in her review of this book- it feels wrong, inappropriate even to give a star rating to someone’s story of human suffering like this. So in that sense, my rating is not an expression of the quality of this narrative, but the significance of this text. No Friend But the Mountains is an important story, about refugee experience in Australia. It is a harrowing story, and one which we must engage with critically, in order to restore humanity, to the way we treat those who need it most. As a text, the origins of this book are also interesting. I appreciated the extensive analysis of the writing and translation process, and the essay at the end explaining some of the more original conceptual and stylistic choices. This is so much more than a work of journalism, it is a literary exploration of the refugee experience, as it is lived. Required reading.

  11. 5 out of 5

    ✨ jamieson ✨

    It feels wrong to rate a book like this which is so deeply personal and so embedded within the author's experiences of suffering. Like, 'thanks for sharing your trauma with me it was worth x stars' just doesn't feel right. Most Australian's probably know about this story or this book - but for those unaware. This is Behrouz Boochani's account of life within Manus Island Detention Centre, which is a prison where refugees attempting to enter Australia were held without charge, and indefinitely, as It feels wrong to rate a book like this which is so deeply personal and so embedded within the author's experiences of suffering. Like, 'thanks for sharing your trauma with me it was worth x stars' just doesn't feel right. Most Australian's probably know about this story or this book - but for those unaware. This is Behrouz Boochani's account of life within Manus Island Detention Centre, which is a prison where refugees attempting to enter Australia were held without charge, and indefinitely, as part of Australia's Federal 'Border Control' policy. The book was written in a series of text messages to Australian journalists, which were then translated from Farsi to English and turned into this book. Boochani details his experience travelling to Australia, being detained by the Australian navy, sent to Manus Island, and then the experiences he and his fellow detainees went through, which includes reported events such as the 2014 riot, the murder of Reza Barati by staff at the facility and the death of Hamid Kehazaei after he was denied medical care and the suicide of inmates amongst others. I absolutely think this is an important book Australian's should read. It's confronting and forces you to contend with the inhumane policies Australia has supported for years. It wasn't entirely what I was expecting, it's more philosophical and political (in the sense of Boochani analysing the prison structure as a political scientist) but I enjoyed that. It wasn't so much a memoir, but more a blend of analysis, literature review, political science and memoir. It's surreal in places, and definitely horrific, though I didn't seem to appreciate or enjoy the political and lyrical sections as much as some other reviewers. Overall, a must-read for Australian's. End mandatory detention and #BringThemHere

  12. 4 out of 5

    Jade Maree

    Finally finished! This book was so hard to read. I usually don’t struggle with translations but I’m sure with this one something must have been lost. Such an important story, just didn’t do it for me.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Zsa Zsa

    I’m lost for words, Bouchani has said it all, he has chosen the best narrative to explain ways in which through the systematic torture, the Australian government is trying to strip refugees from their humanity and make them nothing. It is a strange world indeed where the government of Australia that now rules and tortures refugees is the same as the one that has descended from those colonialists who killed and tortured aboriginals and stole their land, and yet they believe they have the right to I’m lost for words, Bouchani has said it all, he has chosen the best narrative to explain ways in which through the systematic torture, the Australian government is trying to strip refugees from their humanity and make them nothing. It is a strange world indeed where the government of Australia that now rules and tortures refugees is the same as the one that has descended from those colonialists who killed and tortured aboriginals and stole their land, and yet they believe they have the right to imprison people who seek asylum in it, it is a weird world in which still those refugees are called terrorists and not those who have imprisoned them. “I always felt I would die in the place I was born, where I was raised, where I have spent my whole life till now. It’s impossible to imagine dying a thousand kilometers away from the land of your roots. What a terrible, miserable way to die, a sheer injustice; an injustice that seems to me completely arbitrary. Of course, I don’t expect it will happen to me.”

  14. 4 out of 5

    علو پیمان📞

    ... ‏Ruuuuuuuuuuuun Behrouz Ruuuuuuuuuuun ... ‏Hurry up... ‏Death is coming “Sherko Bekas” ... ... ‏Run Behrouz Run...

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer (JC-S)

    ‘Do the Kurds have any friends other than the mountains?’ I read this book in November and have struggled since to try to assemble the right words with which to review it. I think that all Australians should read this book, regardless of whether they support the existing Australian Government detention policy. Those who do not support mandatory detention will find plenty here to support their views. And surely those who do support mandatory detention must concerned by the consequences of the inde ‘Do the Kurds have any friends other than the mountains?’ I read this book in November and have struggled since to try to assemble the right words with which to review it. I think that all Australians should read this book, regardless of whether they support the existing Australian Government detention policy. Those who do not support mandatory detention will find plenty here to support their views. And surely those who do support mandatory detention must concerned by the consequences of the indefinite nature of it? There must be a better way. This book is remarkable. Consider the way is which it was written. Over a period of almost five years, Behrouz Boochani typed passages of his book into his mobile phone. He used Whatsapp to text message these passages to Moones Mansoubi who filed them. She then arranged the text messages into chapters based on Behrouz Boochani’s instructions and subsequently sent to Omid Tofighian for translation from Farsi into English. Then consider the content. The book contains a firsthand account of life for detainees on Manus Island. We, the general public in Australia, have not had much access to firsthand accounts. Finally, despite the conditions in which the book was written and the harrowing detail it contains, there’s a beauty in the language which rises above the horrors depicted. This is Behrouz Boochani’s book, but it is not primarily about him. He uses his journalistic and observational skills to provide Manus detainees with a voice. And that voice tells a story that sickens and saddens me. ‘Behrouz is convinced that the general public have yet to grasp the horrors of systematic torture integral to the detention system. The primary aim of the book is to expose and communicate this very fact.’ (Translator’s Reflections) While I think that Behrouz Boochani is right in that the general public does not fully understand ‘the horrors of systematic torture integral to the detention system’, many Australians accept the view of our political leaders (from both major parties) that mandatory detention is necessary. More of us need to question this, more of us need to put pressure on politicians to re-examine our response to those seeking asylum. As Richard Flanagan writes: ‘Reading this book is difficult for any Australian.’ Sometimes we need to do difficult things. Jennifer Cameron-Smith

  16. 4 out of 5

    Keen

    WELCOME TO AUSTRALIA “For some moments I exert everything to reach something far down inside the deepest existential places of myself. To find something divine. To grab at it…maybe. But I uncover nothing but myself and a sense of enormous absurdity and futility.” This is Boochani recalling some of his darker thoughts on a botched and treacherous boat journey from Indonesia to Australia. And this was before he got to the real horror, at the hand of the Australian authorities. He is buoyed with the WELCOME TO AUSTRALIA “For some moments I exert everything to reach something far down inside the deepest existential places of myself. To find something divine. To grab at it…maybe. But I uncover nothing but myself and a sense of enormous absurdity and futility.” This is Boochani recalling some of his darker thoughts on a botched and treacherous boat journey from Indonesia to Australia. And this was before he got to the real horror, at the hand of the Australian authorities. He is buoyed with the mistaken belief that he will be treated well or at least like a decent human being, but ends up being punished and treated like a slave. Allured by images of sunshine soaked democracy and places like Sydney harbour, he ends up in circumstances more like Guantanamo Bay. After being processed he is known to the Aussies on Manus Island as MEG45. He along with hundreds more have to endure the thumping heat and suffocating humidity. We learn about his belief in the so called Kyriarchal System that the prison runs along, with help from the G4S prison guards or the “[email protected]@rds”, as he prefers to call them. Who in many cases were prison wardens back in Australia or soldiers fighting to protect the US’s business interests in the Middle East. We meet various other characters, including The Cow (on account of his appetite and always being first in line at meal times), The Prime Minister (due to his demeanor and background) and Maysam The Whore (thanks to his outrageous performances for the rest of the group). There is a fragmented quality to the telling of this story, this may have something to do with the fact that this was composed via the author’s verboten mobile phone, which is fairly incredible in itself. There is a moment a rotten tooth falls out of his mouth, which happens to coincide with his exit from the plane at Manus. This seemingly innocent incident seems to take on chilling and ominous dimensions. “Why does the Australian government have to exile little girls of six or seven years old? Why does the Australian government have to incarcerate them? Where in the world do they take children captive and throw them inside a cage? What crime are those children guilty of?” The treatment these immigrants have to endure is genuinely shocking and sickening, all of their possessions have been confiscated and when some of them collect some old lids to use as counters in a game of makeshift backgammon, a group of guards and officers sweep into the room and write in bold letters over it “Games prohibited”. They seem to revel in creating misery and acting as inhumane towards them as possible. Apparently even the Australian Immigration Minister who visited there was taking people aside and vehemently stating, “You have no chance at all, either you go back to your countries or you will remain on Manus Island forever.” Be warned it takes an eye watering 35 pages of dense preamble and introductions, before we even get to the story. Richard Flanagan’s foreword is OK, but from there on it can feel like a slog with quotes like, “to examine Manus prison using a Foucauldian framework and apply his philosophical Critique of the prison, the mental asylum and psychology…or one could draw from Zizek or Gramsci’s well-known reflections and the discourse around hegemony and resistance.” Jeez! I thought am I going to be quizzed at the end of this?...It can begin to feel like you are reading an over-zealous thesis from a philosophy under graduate. For some inexplicable reason the translator seems determined to go to great lengths to try and intellectualise his ordeal, furnishing it with florid philosophical language, framing it in academic terminology, and yet when we eventually get to the victim’s account of his experience, he is nowhere near as pretentious or tedious as the translator is in the introduction. It is very puzzling. A good introduction should help set the scene and provide necessary background, and of course there is some value in this one. I can appreciate the difficulties and complexities that come with translating Farsi into English, but this is just too much and the publishers should really consider trimming it down for further prints in the future. And just in case we didn’t have enough of the academics squabbling to have their say, we even get a “Translator’s reflections” tagged on at the end, which runs to no less than 15 pages. Without doubt the prisoner clearly has gone through a harrowing ordeal, but that doesn’t automatically make for good reading. It was a near miracle that it got out of the prison in the first place and this is clearly an immensely important book in humanitarian and political terms, though this is far from being among the greats of world prison literature, that it is claimed to be in the introduction. Ultimately this shows just how appallingly inhumane and intolerant the Australian government continues to be towards desperate non-white immigrants, and it’s all the more ridiculous when you consider that it is a nation overwhelmingly made up of descendants from immigrants themselves.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Rachel Morris

    An absolute standout in Australian and Persian literature. Behrouz experience is shared so vividly and thoughtfully. The hardest book I’ve ever had to read through in my life, as it’s still the truth of the political situation for the men on Manus, but the insight into the systematic abuse behind it and the way Behrouz draws on his culture is absolutely astounding. This book in itself, is an act of resistance. This book, is a gift to humanity. Every Australian needs to read this book.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Jaclyn

    When your government creates an offshore prison system for people seeking asylum designed to break their spirit and soul you know there will be a reckoning. Following a long tradition of prison memoir, Boochani adds his lived experience of this nightmare. Typed on a mobile phone and sent via whatsapp to his translator in small sections the very fact this book exists is remarkable. His insights and observations are often crippling in their depictions of life in Manus Prison. His use of poetic str When your government creates an offshore prison system for people seeking asylum designed to break their spirit and soul you know there will be a reckoning. Following a long tradition of prison memoir, Boochani adds his lived experience of this nightmare. Typed on a mobile phone and sent via whatsapp to his translator in small sections the very fact this book exists is remarkable. His insights and observations are often crippling in their depictions of life in Manus Prison. His use of poetic stream of consciousness adds power to his story.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Radiantflux

    90th book for 2019. An important book about the Australia's offshore detention system for so called "illegal" immigrants—seeking asylum in a foreign nation is not an illegal act under international law, which Australia is a signatory—that places men, women and children fleeing death/imprisonment in their own countries in horrific prison conditions on tropical islands outside Australia. A must read, not only for all Australians—whose acts of inhumanity are done in their name—but also for all Europe 90th book for 2019. An important book about the Australia's offshore detention system for so called "illegal" immigrants—seeking asylum in a foreign nation is not an illegal act under international law, which Australia is a signatory—that places men, women and children fleeing death/imprisonment in their own countries in horrific prison conditions on tropical islands outside Australia. A must read, not only for all Australians—whose acts of inhumanity are done in their name—but also for all Europeans and Americans who have created similar, if not worse, solutions for their own cases of asylum seekers. All Australians should be very ashamed that their own immigration system has become a model for the Alt-Right throughout the World. No rating is needed here. Read this book, flaws and all.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Anne Fenn

    Unforgettable prison literature - this book is on that level, along with work by Dostoevsky, Solzhenitzen, in Australia maybe Marcus Clark's For The Term Of His Natural Life. These books have in common powerful imaginative narratives of the interminable suffering and savagery men go through over a long period. They remain powerful testaments of the brutalising and mind-numbing effects of prolonged incarceration. Behrouz Boochani's book has the power of being real, not fiction, being here and now Unforgettable prison literature - this book is on that level, along with work by Dostoevsky, Solzhenitzen, in Australia maybe Marcus Clark's For The Term Of His Natural Life. These books have in common powerful imaginative narratives of the interminable suffering and savagery men go through over a long period. They remain powerful testaments of the brutalising and mind-numbing effects of prolonged incarceration. Behrouz Boochani's book has the power of being real, not fiction, being here and now for readers in Australia. It starts with the terror of a boat trip, illegal, unsafe, in terrifyingly dangerous conditions. It's the part you read with your heart in your mouth. Little children are involved. Then we move onto another rhythm of writing, from arrival at Manus Island on. On and on the writer goes, around and around, his mind focusing so closely and repetitively on daily life. Now we feel the endurance needed to survive the privations, the loneliness, lack of a future felt by a big group of imprisoned men. The system aims to ensure the men feel imprisoned in every aspect of their lives. He describes Australian staff as heartless, remote, bonded to each other by the job. He can encompass the group, but the reader sees life through the eyes of Behrouz. In contrast to the horrors, the author's words are beautiful. Page after page, lyrical, vivid, poetic lines compel you to read on. Many Australians don't mind what's going on with refugees held on the islands. A growing number feel ashamed and angry, despairing, about their situation. I'm full of admiration and respect for the effort needed to make this book happen.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Natasha (jouljet)

    This is such an important book - an account, witness and lived experience of the indefinite offshore detention Australia is enforcing on a select number of refugees who sought our protection. Behrouz writes as a prisoner, a refugee, a journalist and writer. This is a record of his boat journey, and his exile to Manus. It is a tribute to those held with him, those killed by the system during this period, and the impact of the day to day interpretations of the harsh policy of "deterrence". The trans This is such an important book - an account, witness and lived experience of the indefinite offshore detention Australia is enforcing on a select number of refugees who sought our protection. Behrouz writes as a prisoner, a refugee, a journalist and writer. This is a record of his boat journey, and his exile to Manus. It is a tribute to those held with him, those killed by the system during this period, and the impact of the day to day interpretations of the harsh policy of "deterrence". The translator's explanation of the prose and use of literary structure had me a little worried about how it may read, but it's accessible, true and powerful. That Behrouz wrote this via text messaging, and edited it in the same why, after being detained in solitary in the refugees standoff upon the forced shutdown of the camp, is all the more incredible. An outstanding piece of literature recording the brutality and inanity of the detention policy.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Skip

    The story of the book is better than the book itself. Behrouz, an Iranian journalist from the Kurdistan region was seeking freedom, ends up in refugee prison camp on Manus Island due to the unfortunate timing of his illegal arrival in Australia. The book was compiled from mobile phone texts and translated from Farsi. It's very sad, depressing, and troubling, showcasing the gruesome squalor and inhumane treatment of refugees on Manus, whose only crime was striving for a better life. The cruelty of The story of the book is better than the book itself. Behrouz, an Iranian journalist from the Kurdistan region was seeking freedom, ends up in refugee prison camp on Manus Island due to the unfortunate timing of his illegal arrival in Australia. The book was compiled from mobile phone texts and translated from Farsi. It's very sad, depressing, and troubling, showcasing the gruesome squalor and inhumane treatment of refugees on Manus, whose only crime was striving for a better life. The cruelty of the Australian government in the way people were treated and deprived of due process, coupled with the complacency of the local Papu is horrific. About the only saving grace was some of the heroic leaders, especially on the ocean passage to Australia from Indonesia. A much better prison memoir is Anthony Hinton's The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jypsy

    I didn't expect No Friend But The Mountains to be a happy story, and it certainly wasn't. It's a lyrical account of one man's prison life complete with despair, hope, drama and complexity. It's not a light or easy read, but if you can read this book, it's worth your time. This story is different from other similar stories. Actually, it's refreshingly honest and shocking. I enjoyed this one. Thanks to NetGalley for an arc in exchange for an honest review. I didn't expect No Friend But The Mountains to be a happy story, and it certainly wasn't. It's a lyrical account of one man's prison life complete with despair, hope, drama and complexity. It's not a light or easy read, but if you can read this book, it's worth your time. This story is different from other similar stories. Actually, it's refreshingly honest and shocking. I enjoyed this one. Thanks to NetGalley for an arc in exchange for an honest review.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Michael Livingston

    This is not a perfect book, but it's one that every Australian should read. Written via text message from the Manus Island prison, Boochani has written an expose of the brutal conditions that the Australian government has abandoned 100s of refugees to on PNG. Boochani has higher literary ambitions and he writes evocatively of life on Manus. This is an infuriating, shaming book - we're complicit in torture and there's no sign of anything changing. This is not a perfect book, but it's one that every Australian should read. Written via text message from the Manus Island prison, Boochani has written an expose of the brutal conditions that the Australian government has abandoned 100s of refugees to on PNG. Boochani has higher literary ambitions and he writes evocatively of life on Manus. This is an infuriating, shaming book - we're complicit in torture and there's no sign of anything changing.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Radhika Roy

    Behrouz Boochani is an Iranian-Kurdish journalist who found himself on Manus Island while trying to flee Iran. The story that follows recounts the utter dehumanization that occurs at this so-called detention centre (Boochani calls it a "prison", but I believe it's worse than that because even a prison accords basic rights to its inhabitants). Boochani spent 5-ish years on this Australian-run prison and, interestingly, wrote this book via text messages/WhatsApp messages ! The narrative is a beauti Behrouz Boochani is an Iranian-Kurdish journalist who found himself on Manus Island while trying to flee Iran. The story that follows recounts the utter dehumanization that occurs at this so-called detention centre (Boochani calls it a "prison", but I believe it's worse than that because even a prison accords basic rights to its inhabitants). Boochani spent 5-ish years on this Australian-run prison and, interestingly, wrote this book via text messages/WhatsApp messages ! The narrative is a beautiful mixture of poetry and prose. Boochani weaves the novel in a manner that makes it seem surreal, which is also why the translator of the book calls it "horrific surrealism". The descriptions jump at you and make your skin crawl; from the state of the washrooms to the manner in which prisoners are crowded in small and hot space, it's all meant to the make the reader feel uneasy. He minces no words and excels at putting his point across about the treatment meted out to the prisoners. Trust me, this is not an easy read for a person with a weak stomach. Apart from this, Boochani brings up the concept of the prison's "Kyriarchical Effect" which is meant to showcase the intersectional systemic torture inflicted by the Australian officers and the Papus (the locals who are roped in to maintain order). He studies the layers present within a prison and the design of a person; all meant to increase a prisoner's affliction. He also provides some wonderful psychoanalytical accounts of his fellow prisoners. "No Friend but the Mountains" is not only a literary work, but also a political commentary. It exposes the neo-colonialism structure of the prison and the perpetuation of the same by the Australian government. It brings to fore the anti-refugee sentiment that has percolated throughout the world (not just limited to white communities) and how the need for a burgeoning economy is trumping the need to ensure basic human rights are accorded to everyone. Boochani also adopts his own language to destabilize the stereotypes used for refugees; he says that he wishes to create his own discourse and not succumb to the language of the oppressors, and this allows him to critically analyse the prison. Boochani also touches upon his personal world as a "child of war" and as a person at the receiving end of the inhumane treatment that was the norm at Manus Prison. When you read about his nostalgia for his homeland, you realise that no one wants to leave their country in the dead of night, risking their lives on a boat that is susceptible to capsizing at any moment, until and unless the situation at their home country is not worse. When this book was published, Boochani was still at Manus Prison. It was declared illegal by the PNG Supreme Court in 2016 and finally shut down in 2017. All throughout his time at the prison, from 2013 to 2017, Boochani embodied the spirit of resistance against the Kyriarchical structure of the prison. The book ends with the translator's note wherein Boochani says a few poignant words - "This will take time, but I'll continue challenging the system and I will win in the end. It's a long road, but I'll do it". I am giving it a four-star because at times I found the book too descriptive and I am a bit of an impatient reader, but for a person who loves words as much as Boochani does, this would be a treat for the eyes and the mind. Do read if you want to learn more about prisons, and most importantly, about prisoners. Oh, and full marks to the translator of this book, Omid Tafighian. He did an absolutely wonderful job in translating this beautiful piece of work from Farsi to English. If the English version is this heart-wrenching, I can only imagine how wonderful the original version must be.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Kathy

    Heartbreaking, horrifying, harrowing - a tragic description of incarceration and mental torture of asylum-seekers on Manus Island at the hands of the Australian Government. The writing is beautiful and poetic, the descriptions accurate and insightful. The book was painstakingly tapped out on a smuggled mobile phone, and sent to Australia where it was translated from the Farsi by researcher Dr Omid Tofighian. The translated version is lyrical and beautiful – I can only imagine that the original F Heartbreaking, horrifying, harrowing - a tragic description of incarceration and mental torture of asylum-seekers on Manus Island at the hands of the Australian Government. The writing is beautiful and poetic, the descriptions accurate and insightful. The book was painstakingly tapped out on a smuggled mobile phone, and sent to Australia where it was translated from the Farsi by researcher Dr Omid Tofighian. The translated version is lyrical and beautiful – I can only imagine that the original Farsi would be haunting! Boochani describes, in harrowing detail, the lives of prisoners incarcerated on Manus Island – Manus prison. In clear detail, he describes the minutiae of life in a prison where there is nothing to do but try and exist – the queues, the obsession about the exact amount of milk in a glass, for example. He describes life under the draconian system of discipline that has as its raison d'être the subjugation and humiliation of the prisoners. Boochani labels Manus Prison a ‘kyriarchy’ system, a term coined by feminist theologian Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza to describe social networks built around psychological domination and oppression. This is shown in, for example, the punishments the repeated strip-searches and the sudden and unreasoning changes of routine. Nothing or no-one is spared – the bullying of the guards, the erratic behaviour of the prisoners as they try to survive, the self-harm, the horrendous state of the buildings, the food, the helplessness of the local guards (the Papu.) The “health” system is appalling and ineffective. One gets the impression that’s the intention. It’s an honest and unsparing description of life in a violent environment. This is an indictment of Australia’s brutal asylum-seeker policy. There is nothing humane about it. The refugees are not criminals. They are ordinary human beings, with their faults and flaws, who came to Australia seeking support, but were incarcerated in the hell-hole that is Manus Island. This challenging and difficult to read book exposes the effect of that degrading (to the refugees and to Australia) system. It should be required reading for our leaders, and, indeed all Australians.

  27. 4 out of 5

    M - The long hot spell

    Boochani provided a distressing, yet I think necessary, insight into life for refugees when we (Australians) place them in detention. It’s not a pleasant story. I didn’t always like it. But it is an eye-opening account and I enjoyed learning more about Behrouz Boochani who wrote this book by sending short text messages of the manuscript to a journalist. I listened to the audio which was read by many so each chapter was a different voice. I guess the plus with this is that if you don’t like the re Boochani provided a distressing, yet I think necessary, insight into life for refugees when we (Australians) place them in detention. It’s not a pleasant story. I didn’t always like it. But it is an eye-opening account and I enjoyed learning more about Behrouz Boochani who wrote this book by sending short text messages of the manuscript to a journalist. I listened to the audio which was read by many so each chapter was a different voice. I guess the plus with this is that if you don’t like the reader you aren’t stuck with them for a whole book. Had it been one ‘good’ reader though, I would have preferred it.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Tundra

    A challenging and uncomfortable read. I personally feel it would be an insult to judge Boochani’s work and the circumstances under which he is forced to exist so I am leaving this unrated. His ability to construct ‘every man’ using colloquial names (that could be people that we all know) creates a surreal yet highly personal account. The collapse of individuality and resignation to hopelessness witnessed is a human tragedy. The description of ‘bosses with bosses’ and the ludicrous and unknowable A challenging and uncomfortable read. I personally feel it would be an insult to judge Boochani’s work and the circumstances under which he is forced to exist so I am leaving this unrated. His ability to construct ‘every man’ using colloquial names (that could be people that we all know) creates a surreal yet highly personal account. The collapse of individuality and resignation to hopelessness witnessed is a human tragedy. The description of ‘bosses with bosses’ and the ludicrous and unknowable regulations reminded me of ‘The Trial’ by Franz Kafka. Lloyd Jones has written a novel called ‘The Cage’ which seemed surreal when I read it but I now feel may be more realistic than I could have imagined.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Emmkay

    Behrouz Boochanj is a Kurdish refugee who, seeking to make his way to Australia by boat from Indonesia, was instead imprisoned by Australia on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea. His book about the experience was written on his cellphone, sent largely via WhatsApp messages in Farsi to his translator, Omid Tofighian, with whom he collaborated. Even after the facility where he was held was declared illegal and closed, he remained unable to leave Manus until late last year, long after this book’s pub Behrouz Boochanj is a Kurdish refugee who, seeking to make his way to Australia by boat from Indonesia, was instead imprisoned by Australia on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea. His book about the experience was written on his cellphone, sent largely via WhatsApp messages in Farsi to his translator, Omid Tofighian, with whom he collaborated. Even after the facility where he was held was declared illegal and closed, he remained unable to leave Manus until late last year, long after this book’s publication. The book is dense, challenging, and remarkable. It is not a conventional ‘refugee memoir’ or ‘prison memoir’ - of recent books I’ve read, I’m thinking for example of Homes, or The Girl Who Smiled Beads, or The Prisoner of Tehran. These can be very good indeed, and important, but follow a certain format, with the focus on conveying a comprehensible personal narrative, usually taking the reader from the life before, to where things went wrong, and out again with new insight and empathy on the reader’s part. Boochani’s book brought to mind Kafka, Levi, Foucault. He’s a political scientist by training, and, even as he’s writing about the awful degradation and dehumanization the prison system fosters (and the details were much worse than I expected, shame on us all for allowing this), he’s maintaining and asserting the value of his own background and outlook by drawing on traditional Kurdish literary forms and theorizing the system that has caught him in its jaws. What a way to simultaneously capture the systemic and assert the individual at the same time.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Carmel Hanes

    This book was not particularly enjoyable to read, but it's an important book, nonetheless. It details the personal experience of the author in attempting to seek asylum in Australia, but instead being imprisoned on nearby Manus Island. The narrative begins with the boat trip across the ocean, which is harrowing and dangerous, and which leads not to freedom but to incarceration. The atmosphere of this detention center is oppressive and hopeless and the details provided are gruesome and relentless This book was not particularly enjoyable to read, but it's an important book, nonetheless. It details the personal experience of the author in attempting to seek asylum in Australia, but instead being imprisoned on nearby Manus Island. The narrative begins with the boat trip across the ocean, which is harrowing and dangerous, and which leads not to freedom but to incarceration. The atmosphere of this detention center is oppressive and hopeless and the details provided are gruesome and relentless. It is hard to imagine that anyone, anywhere, is kept in such conditions, particularly for the "crime" of seeking a better life--and for years without any due process. Boochani captures it well with this quote: "In addition to the torment produced by the oppressive enclosure of the prison fences, every prisoner creates a smaller emotional jail within themselves--something that occurs at the apex of hopelessness and disenfranchisement." There is nothing pretty in this book, with the occasional exception of some finely tuned observations that result when one can do nothing but observe. It's a difficult and heartbreaking read, for those who can bear it.

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