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2019 - Winner
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."