No Friend But The Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison

Behrouz Boochani

2019 Winner

No Friend But the mountain
Translated by
Omid Tofighian

Judges' Comments 

A beautiful and powerful piece of writing from detention on Manus Island, where Kurdish refugee Behrouz Boochani has been held for more than six years. The book is an impassioned letter to those who would define Boochani as MEG45, who insist he is nothing more than a number; it speaks to the importance of life writing and of the human need to tell our stories.

We come to know Boochani not through his whole life narrative but from the way he survives, his observations of others, and his analysis of the psychological and power structures underpinning the place he calls Manus Prison. All that he has experienced and learnt in his life comes to bear on this book.  

Boochani describes life on Manus as only an insider can, recounting the shocking tiny details of cruelty, degradation, humiliation and constant surveillance. He finds beauty in strange flowers and the Manusian moon and draws solace from solitude when it can be found. 

This is compelling storytelling in the samisdat tradition, written in Farsi as a series of text messages sent to his translator and collaborator Omid Tofighian. Collaboration has made this book, which demonstrates how innovative, experimental and creative the work of translation can be.

The writing is poetic and epic, steeped in the tradition of Persian culture and belief systems. The book is profoundly important, all the more so because of the means of its production, an astonishing act of witness, and testament to the lifesaving power of writing as resistance.  

Behrouz's acceptance speech via phone from Manus Island 

"Hello, I would like to say hello to everyone. I am very excited. I am sitting with an Australian friend and hear this news. Thank you very much.

I don’t want to talk about literature , just I would like to say that I think the literature community as a part of civil society of Australia are part of our resistance in front of this system and I think it is very valuable, and I do appreciate everyone for recognising my work.

Also, I would like to thank all of my friends: Omid Tofighian, Moones Mansoubi and others for helping me in this way and in this struggle. I don’t know what to say, just thank you very much. I think history will judge this generation and will judge all of us in this hard and dark period of Australian history.

Thank you very much."

Behrouz Boochani

Behrouz Boochani

Associate Professor Behrouz Boochani graduated from Tarbiat Moallem University and Tarbiat Modares University, both in Tehran; he holds a Masters degree in political science, political geography and geopolitics. He is a Kurdish-Iranian writer, journalist, scholar, cultural advocate and filmmaker. He is currently a political prisoner incarcerated by the Australian government in the Manus Island Regional Processing Centre (Papua New Guinea). Boochani was writer for the Kurdish language magazine Werya; is Associate Professor in Social Sciences at UNSW; non-resident Visiting Scholar at the Sydney Asia Pacific Migration Centre (SAPMiC), University of Sydney; Honorary Member of PEN International; and winner of an Amnesty International Australia 2017 Media Award, the Diaspora Symposium Social Justice Award, the Liberty Victoria 2018 Empty Chair Award, and the Anna Politkovskaya award for journalism. He publishes regularly with The Guardian, and his writing also features in The Saturday Paper, Huffington Post, New Matilda, The Financial Times and The Sydney Morning Herald. Boochani is also co-director (with Arash Kamali Sarvestani) of the 2017 feature-length film Chauka, Please Tell Us The Time; collaborator on Nazanin Sahamizadeh's play Manus; and author of No Friend But The Mountains: Writing From Manus Prison (Pan Macmillan-Picador 2018). At the Victorian Premier's Literary Awards 2019 his book won the Victorian Prize for Literature in addition to the Non-Fiction category. He has also won the Special Award at the NSW Premier's Literary Awards and Non-Fiction Book of the Year, Australian Book Industry Awards.

photo of omid tofighian

Omid Tofighian

Dr Omid Tofighian is a award-winning lecturer, researcher and community advocate, combining philosophy with interests in citizen media, popular culture, displacement and discrimination. He completed his PhD in philosophy at Leiden University, Netherlands, and graduated with a combined honours degree in philosophy and studies in religion at the University of Sydney. Tofighian has lived variously in Australia where he taught at different universities; the United Arab Emirates where he taught at Abu Dhabi University; Belgium where he was a visiting scholar at K.U. Leuven; Netherlands for his PhD; and intermittent periods in Iran for research. His current roles include Assistant Professor of English and Comparative Literature, American University in Cairo; Adjunct Lecturer in the School of the Arts and Media, UNSW; Honorary Research Associate for the Department of Philosophy, University of Sydney; faculty at Iran Academia; and campaign manager for Why Is My Curriculum White? - Australasia. He contributes to community arts and cultural projects and works with refugees, migrants and youth. He has published numerous book chapters and journal articles, is author of Myth and Philosophy in Platonic Dialogues (Palgrave 2016), translator of Behhouz Boochani's multi-award winning book No Friend but the Mountains: Writing From Manus Prison (Picador 2018), and co-editor of 'Refugee Filmmaking', Alphaville: Journal of Film and Screen Media (Winter 2019).

Updated on 16 November 2021