Review by TIM LAM
This haunting memoir from Kurdish journalist Behrouz Boochani is an act of resistance against Australia’s ruthless offshore detention regime.
Written via WhatsApp text messages sent from a smuggled mobile phone, and translated from Farsi by University of Sydney researcher Dr Omid Tofighian, the publication of No Friend But the Mountains is itself a remarkable feat.
The book opens with Boochani’s harrowing boat journey from Indonesia to Australia. After enduring days of rough weather he finally arrives in Australian waters only to find himself exiled to Manus Island, where he remains today.
Boochani’s lyrical writing style draws on mythical stories and imagery to evoke the sights and sounds of Manus Island.
Prose is interspersed with poetry as he chronicles daily life inside the detention centre, which he renames ‘Manus Prison’.
Indeed refugees follow the routine of a prison as they queue for food, telephone and the toilet. They are strip-searched, robbed of their dignity and denied any semblance of privacy.
Boochani describes in unflinching detail the psychological struggles endured by the refugees, who are governed by a system designed to break them into asking to return home. In one instance, a young man is denied access to a phone to call his dying father despite the detainee’s pleas for mercy.
Refugee stories in mainstream media are often condensed into a homogenous narrative, devoid of individual testimonies. In No Friend But the Mountains, Boochani does not romanticise or demonise refugees but reveals the humanity of refugees and asylum seekers that the Australian government has tried to suppress.
The detainees are presented as flawed people who feel love, greed, courage and jealousy as they struggle to survive in an inherently violent environment.
The reader is introduced to a cast of characters such as Reza Barati, the ‘gentle giant’ and The Cow, who earns his nickname for his insatiable appetite.
Boochani strikes the reader as an introverted, contemplative thinker and a keen observer of nature. But the beauty of the local flora and fauna is contrasted with the horror that he witnesses within the walls of Manus Prison every day.
Boochani, who studied political science and geopolitics in Tehran, examines Australia’s refugee policy through an academic lens and exposes the power structures that uphold this brutal prison system.
He labels Manus Prison a ‘kyriarchy’ system, a term coined by feminist theologian Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza to describe intersecting social networks built around psychological domination and oppression.
The book also features an appearance from an unnamed immigration minister, who readers may recognise as the current Prime Minister, one of the chief architects of Operation Sovereign Borders.
The Australian government has repeatedly tried to deny refugees a voice, but Boochani’s book shows that he will not be silenced.
RRP: $32.99 ($14.99 for ebook).