No friend but the mountains

 No friend but the mountains, cover of book with text 'This book is a voice of witness. An act of survival. A lyric first-hand account.'

 

 Book review by Jacqui, one of our library team

This is a heartfelt account, written from immigration detention on Manus Island.  A mixture of prose and poetry, it was written in Farsi and sent by individual text messages smuggled out from the remote location and translated into English by lecturer, researcher and community advocate, Omid Tofighian.

The author paints a vivid, terrible picture of his sea journey fleeing persecution in his country of birth and his one-time hope of starting a new life in Australia.  The journey is fraught, through rough waters in an unseaworthy vessel, battling through huge waves and wild storms. 

Death seems inevitable, but the travellers have made the only choice open to them.

When they are rescued and transferred to an Australian ship, Boochani writes, “Whatever has passed, we have now reached Australia.  Life has shed its love on us.”  How wrong he was.

The author describes what he calls the “kyriarchal system” applying in the detention centre and its manipulation of the detainees, setting up a distrust among them. This increases their feelings of isolation and loneliness.  Most social activity is discouraged.  Playing cards and soccer balls are forbidden. 

Boochani tells of a few men drawing a backgammon board on a table-op and using bottle tops to play.  Instantly. Guards swooped on the board and wrote “games prohibited” across the board in large letters.  Why?  These men were trying to keep their sanity.

In a prison of about 400 people (at the time of Boochani’s writing), kept captive in extreme heat and insanitary conditions, still suffering from the traumas of flight and journey, how could one not lose his mind?  All personal possessions were confiscated. 

Not even a pen or notepad was allowed.  No wonder the rate of self-harm was - and still is – appalling.  These people, remember, had committed NO CRIME.  It was (and still is) legal to seek asylum under both Australian and international law.  When listening to the rhetoric of various governments, it is easy to forget that these people are innocent of any crime.

The contempt and barbarism with which the inmates are treated by the guards is disgraceful.  As an Australian, I am ashamed of the callousness of the leaders who enforce these heartless rules and hide these people from our sight, lest we see their humanity.

I urge you to read this book.

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The library has a printed copy, or as eBook through our Wheeler’s eBook platform, the eAudio version is available through BorrowBox.

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