In 2013 the Kurdish journalist Behrouz Boochani was illegally detained on Manus Island while on a journey to seek asylum in Australia. He has been there ever since. Bearing witness to understand his experience, intellectualising the layers of authority and bureaucracy, this book is the result. No Friend But The Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison was written by text message, sent in Farsi to his translator Omid Tofighian, as an act of rebellion and survival.
This is no traditional memoir; the book opens while Boochani is in Indonesia, 30 years old, trying to find a boat to get to Australia. It is a deeply personal journalistic style, informed both by his philosophical and political analysis as well as a beating call to poetry. It is blurred, confusing. Lyrical, but immediately infused with desperation.
“No it can’t be that I should submit to death so easily. I am destined to die in the distant future and not by drowning or any similar fate. I’m destined to die in a particular way, when I choose. I decide that my own death must involve an act of the will – I resolve it within me, in my very soul.
Death must be a matter of choice.
No I don’t want to die /
I don’t want to give up my life so easily /
Death is inevitable, we know /
But I don’t want to succumb to the inevitability of death /
Especially somewhere so far away from my motherland /
I don’t want to die out there surrounded by water /
And more water.”
These poems break up the pacing and tension of the writing, every few pages coming through with their abstraction. But they are felt even more keenly, their deconstructed style allowing the journalist a true, more direct communication.
There is a rhythm to his writing, a patterning between journalism, reflection, and poetry. Those around him are known by what they look like or how they behave: The Gentle Giant, Maysam The Whore, The Blue Eyed Boy. There is no post-hoc justification, there is no philosophising beyond these walls. It is the journey to and life within this camp, and it is almost claustrophobic for it. The factual daily minutia of lives in Manus prison are horrible, inane, exhausting, and infuriating in their simple stupidity. It is torture by committee, fed by fear, enabled through poverty, reasoned through racism.
It took me months to read this book. I almost gave up on it completely and didn’t finish it at all. The relentlessness, the cruelty, the real-world Kaftkaness – it is too much to bear. I put it down, read another book, picked it up again; repeat. But whatever my experience, its difficulties to grapple with, they pale in comparison to the current day ongoing lived experience of the author. This has been his life for five years now, and remains to this day. It is ruthless, unjust, almost beyond fathoming. This is a person who has asked my country for help, and we are inflicting this poisonous wound, this permanent scar upon him. The dissonance in my heart when a person who as fled across the world because they fear for their lives dies while in illegal Australian custody is utterly physically wrenching.
Read this book, see Behrouz Boochani, because he is bearing witness to our country in a way that we should both fully realise and feel completely ashamed about. The writing is intelligent, unapologetic, poetic; the book is tragic and necessary. It is astonishing that such beauty and perception comes from an unjustly jailed man, one text message at a time.