Sep 2019 - No Friend But the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison
  No Friend But the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison 
by Behrouz Boochani
Book Group 1 – September 2019

The 2018 Victoria Prize for the best in Australian Literature was awarded to an author who is not Australian, has never been to Australia and will never be allowed to visit Australia: Behrouz Boochani, the author of No Friend But the Mountain: Writing from Manus Prison. How can such a novel be considered “Australian literature?” Our author spent six years as an asylum refugee detained by the Australia government on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea. His book is the damning indictment of his incarceration by Australians yet Boochani has found wide support with in the Australian literature community.


Boochani is a Kurdish Iranian journalist who was forced to flee Iran after his pro-Kurdish newspaper was raided. From Indonesia he attempted to seek asylum in Australia via boat. Just before Boochani set out, new Australian policy refuses all refugees arriving by boat, even if they attain refugee status and Iran rejects forcible repatriation. Boochani is serving a prison sentence without an end date. Boochani also made a movie of life in never ending detention: “Chauka, Please Tell Us the Time”.


No Friend But the Mountain is a “novel” which combines journalism, poetry, psychoanalysis and political commentary.  The book and movie were created entirely on a smuggled phone via messages sent out by Whats App.


On a Friday morning in September eight literature loving members gathered at Meredith’s home for a lively, multimedia discussion.  (And delicious home-cooked Iranian meal!). The group found that the book started with fast paced intensity when the author is on the high seas. But the book became slower and slower as the endless days of prison life are recounted. Perhaps this pace reflected too much time to think. The self-absorption of the author was felt to be a negative and surprisingly he didn't elicit as much sympathy as his situation would suggest. We were all left wondering why Boochani has not found a new home off of Manus Island considering his new fame and some income. Although most members did not care much for the author we all agreed that the novel was readable and valuable in learning about the plight of refugees in Australia. It was a book that we would have been unlikely to pick up ourselves but was a perfect book group selection leading to thoughtful discussion on current topics.


Diana Daymond