'Where have I come from? From the land of rivers, the land of waterfalls, the land of ancient chants, the land of mountains...
'Since 2013, Kurdish journalist Behrouz Boochani has been held in the Manus Island offshore processing centre.
'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? ' (Publication summary)
Dedication: For Janet Galbrouth - who is a bird.
'Over the past decade Australia’s policies on border protection have achieved a certain dark notoriety, in their often-vexed (although perhaps not vexed enough) reception both at home and abroad. While there has been extensive, if not necessarily efficacious, public debate about the legal and political dimensions of these policies, together with some coverage of their human, most often medical, consequences for refugees and asylum-seekers, there has been less opportunity for us to attend more closely to the statements and self-expression of those who have been caught up most directly and intensely in those policies.
'Testimonial accounts by detainees from Australian offshore centres are now beginning to be published and made available to the wider Australian public, as in the 2017 publication, They Cannot Take the Sky: Stories From Detention, (ed Michael Green, André Dao et al) along with manifestos, such as that by Behrouz Boochani, a Kurdish journalist, currently held on Manus, who has been detained since 2013. In addition to these, in 2017, Island magazine published “Chanting of Crickets, Ceremonies of Cruelty: A Mythic Topography of Manus Prison,” an extract from Boochani’s forthcoming book, No Friend But The Mountains: Writing From Manus Prison, described by the publishers as “a lyric first-hand account” of his experiences.
'These works – testimonials, manifesto, poetic novel/memoir – don’t simply provide an account of the lives and experiences of the refugees and asylum seekers; they also delineate a relationship with the Australian public. They imagine or posit a dialogue with us. In this paper, I want to propose that we approach the dialogue being proposed by the asylum-seeker writings as a mode of literary engagement. To put this another way, I’m proposing that these works demand attentive reading from us, not only in our responsibilities as citizens but also and most particularly as literary readers or scholars. In thinking about literary reading as a point of necessary public interface, I am responding to line of thought proposed by Boochani in his resonant account of the task of writing the truth of refugee detainment in his essay in They Cannot Take the Sky, where he argues that literary language is fundamental to the expression of difficult truths: “I publish a lot of stories in the newspapers and in the media about Manus, but people, really, they cannot understand our condition, not in journalistic language. Where we are is too hard. I think only in literary language can people understand our life and our condition.”' (Publication abstract)
'Is this not also the national founding story? Land being made to accommodate those whom society had failed—at least 165,000 British convicts on 806 boats in 80 years. Some were sent to Tasmania as placeholders for free settlement; pristine forests and wetlands making way for brutal prisons and slave industries.'(Introduction)
'No Friend But the Mountains, the electrifying “memoir of ideas” by the refugee journalist-philosopher Behrouz Boochani is my book of the year. Boochani defied every attempt of successive governments to deny refugees such as him a voice, transmitting the manuscript via text and WhatsApp messages from a smuggled-in phone to his translator and interlocutor, Omid Tofighian. Such heroic defiance alone would make it a worthy book. But this is a great book, with a voice, as The Saturday Paper review had it, that is “acerbic yet compassionate, sorrowful but never self-indulgent”.' (Introduction)
'Behrouz Boochani is a Kurdish-Iranian journalist, playwright and activist whose book, No Friend But the Mountain was written by text message over a couple of years on Manus Prison. The resulting work is a powerful, readable memoir with poetry that is a searing indictment of the offshore detention regime. His other works of documentation include writing for The Guardian, a play ‘Manus‘, and a film ‘Chauka, please Tell us the Time‘. (Introduction)
'No Friend but the Mountains: Writing From Manus Prison is a literary work typed using mobile phone text messaging and produced after five years of indefinite detention in the Australian-run immigration detention centre on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea. Behrouz Boochani’s Manus Prison narratives represent the fusion of journalism, political commentary and philosophical reflection with myth, epic, poetry and folklore. By experimenting with multiple genres he creates a new literary framework for his uncanny and penetrating reflections on exile to Manus Island and the prison experience from the standpoint of an Indigenous Kurdish writer. In addition, the narratives he constructs function as political and philosophical critique and expose the phenomenon of Manus Prison as a modern manifestation of systematic torture. Drawing on scholarship from social epistemology, this article emphasises the situated nature of Boochani’s writing and the interdependent way of knowing uniquely characteristic of his positionality. This study also demonstrates, from the perspective of the translator, the interdisciplinary nature of the translation process and indicates how a particular philosophical reading was required, particularly in order to communicate the work’s decolonial trajectory. The Manus Prison narratives depict a surreal form of horror and are best described in terms of anti-genre: the stories redefine and deconstruct categories and concepts; they resist style and tradition; and they show the limitations of established genres for articulating the physical, psychological and emotional impact of exile and indefinite detention on refugees.' (Publication abstract)
'It is a matter of wonder that Behrouz Boochani was able to write No Friend but the Mountains at all. He did so while in Manus prison, using text messages in Farsi on smuggled mobile phones. Egyptian and Australian academic Omid Tofighian worked closely with Boochani to translate the text into English. In a detailed introduction to the book, Tofighian explains that Boochani’s writing contributes to a Kurdish literary tradition. He describes his style as “horror surrealism”.' (Introduction)
'Australia’s government tries to stop stories from being told but a new wave of authors are rallying against injustice.'
'In his astonishing book At the Mind’s Limits: Contemplations by a survivor on Auschwitz and its realities (1980), Jean Améry devotes a chapter to intellectuals in the Nazi camp. An essayist and novelist himself, he focuses on how writers made sense of their incarceration. ‘Did intellectual background and an intellectual basic disposition help a camp prisoner in the decisive moments?’ he asks. ‘Did they make survival easier for him?’' (Introduction)
'Behrouz Boochani describes being smashed into the sea by the boulder-like weight of an overpacked, splintering boat transporting asylum seekers from Indonesia to Australia. The wreck’s ‘slashed carcass’ gashes the flailing survivors and the bodies of those who have died, and Boochani settles under a wave, finding refuge ‘by imagining myself elsewhere’. Finding the strength to surface, he sees a group of men clinging to a wooden spar torn from the battered boat. Its spikes lacerate Boochani’s legs as he sinks and surfaces amid violent waves. A British boat approaches: ‘our gruelling odyssey has come to an end’. Having faced death in those underwater moments, Boochani reflects that ‘even a brush with mortality gives life a marvellous sense of meaning’.' (Introduction)