No Friend But the Mountains, by Behrouz Boochani

I recently finished reading No Friend But The Mountains by Behrouz Boochani. I previously mentioned Behrouz last year in the nothing here newsletter when he won one of the most prestigious literary awards in Australia. He’s a refugee who was trapped in Australia’s offshore refugee prison for years, and is still stranded on Manus Island even now. He wrote reportage about Manus and this entire novel via text message on a phone he wasn’t even supposed to have in the prison. The logistics behind the writing, translating, and editing of this book alone demonstrate Boochani’s drive to get this story out into the world, and we should be thankful for that, because it’s a story that needs to be told.

The story starts with his first attempt at crossing the ocean and continues on from there (ironically/sadly if this first boat hadn’t sunk he might have been able to settle in Australia because with his second attempt he arrived just a few days after the fucked up “no one coming by boat will ever be allowed to set foot on Australian soil, regardless of the validity of their status as refugees” law was passed). It’s poetic while remaining grounded in the systematic horrors of the prison and the situation all the refugees find themselves in. It’s an important read for many reasons, not least of which is the fact that governments all over the world are taking inspiration from Australia’s offshore detention regime, and as time goes on, and climate and ecological pressures cause more people to need to flee their homes and homelands, we will see more countries establishing similarly barbaric prisons – sorry, “processing centres” – cropping up all over the world. These refugees will find themselves locked up in prisons like the one at Manus Island for the simple “crime” of seeking asylum.

I want to see every politician who has served since the (fabricated) child overboard “scandal”, and hasn’t publicly condemned Australia’s refugee policies, be locked up in Manus Prison, indefinitely. I want their wealth taken from them, I want their exorbitant fucking pensions stripped from them and used to provide all our tortured refugees the kinds of lives they deserve here (and the therapy they will no doubt need after all that we have inflicted on them).

The book opens with a long introduction from the translator, and one of the (unrelated) things from it that really caught my eye was this:

His use of metaphors related to wolves is exceptional and haunting … I once heard that in Iran when a sheepdog fights off a wolf to defend its flock it aims for the jugular. In most cases the wolves are too strong and ferocious for the dogs. But there are times when the sheepdog manages to lock its jaws around the wolf’s throat and remains clamped onto it until the wolf can’t withstand the pressure anymore; the dog persists until the wolf submits. The sheepdog emerges from the victory with an extraordinary self-realisation – the experience transforms the dog, the encounter empowers it. The sheepdog develops a new sense of self beyond self-confidence – it re-identifies as a wolf. The shepherds know the dangers of this phenomenon; they know that when a dog’s identity morphs in this way it is no longer controllable. They put it down.

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Corey J. White

Corey J. White is the author of Killing Gravity, Void Black Shadow, and Static Ruin. He studied writing at Griffith University on the Gold Coast, and is now based in Melbourne, Australia.

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