Title: No Friend But The Mountains – Writing from Manus Prison
Author: Behrouz Boochani; translated by Omid Tofighian
Publisher: Pan Macmillan Australia, 2018
Journalist, writer, filmmaker with a Masters degree in political science,
Behrouz Boochani fled Iran, came to Australia as a refugee and spent six years on
Manus Island. He chronicled prison life with only a hidden mobile phone.
A forward by Richard Flanagan ranks his work with world prison literature.
After a horrific sea crossing, Behrouz arrives at Christmas Island on 23 July
2013 – four days after the ruling against boat arrivals. He and his companions are
confronted with wire fences and CCTV cameras. They are stripped, body-searched, handcuffed, paraded before the press and transferred to Manus prison.
The men no longer have names but numbers. Games are prohibited. Soccer
balls are forbidden but cigarettes are supplied – cigarettes that can be withdrawn. They must stand in queues for the phone, toilet, cigarettes and long queues of
paracetamol dependency. They must queue for meals. Often no food is left. A
mango tree outside the fence tantalises starving men.
In small rebellions, the men sing and dance, infuriating the Australian guards.
Many guards are ex-military. They wear black gloves with little metal spikes
and terrorise the prisoners.
A naked prisoner escapes the terrifying solitary confinement cell. Guards pin him down, crushing his face to the ground. His back is bloody. He is cuffed. They beat him with a stick and laugh. They leave him lying there, wounded.
The Immigration Minister visits and issues terrifying threats: stay here forever
or return to danger.
Some have coping mechanisms, many do not. Fear, torture and neglect lead to suicides and the terrible riot of 2014. After the riot, the men are paraded to witness the dead and injured bodies of fellow prisoners.
Behrouz unflinchingly describes the worst of humanity and one of the darkest
chapters of Australian history, a regime designed to break its victims, yet his account is a triumph of the human spirit. Producing such a masterpiece with only a
contraband mobile phone was an extraordinary achievement, the skill involved
Barbaric cruelty is exposed through exquisite writing, haunting poetic
passages and even moments of merriment.
The effort to do justice to such an epic has been daunting. Many times I felt
an over-whelming sense of national shame but I could not turn away.
Reviewed by: Maureen Riches, August 2020
Ballarat Writers Inc. book review group