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No Friend but the Mountains - Book Review

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by Jenny Esots (subscribe)
A freelance writer and traveller who likes to explore the spiritual, literary and hidden gems of Adelaide and beyond.
Published April 25th 2019
Writing from Manus Prison
Where have I come from? From the land of rivers, the land of waterfalls, the land of ancient chants, the land of mountains...

Boochani is a Kurdish journalist who has been imprisoned on Manus Island for the past 6 years. While detained as an asylum seeker on Manus Island he has been able to document his life and circumstances which makes for exceedingly harrowing reading in his award-winning novel No Friend but the Mountains. Despite the heavy-duty topic, this is an immensely readable book.

No Friend but the Mountains by Behouz Boochani
No Friend but the Mountains by Behouz Boochani


Boochani places himself as an observer of the plight of asylum seekers who are exiled to Manus Island. From the opening pages, the reader is introduced to his life-threatening journey on board a doomed and leaky boat from Indonesia. His gaze is unflinching, each page is lined with pain, fear and anger.

No Friend but the Mountains by Behouz Boochani
No Friend but the Mountains by Behouz Boochani


The process of writing this book has been difficult, as Boochani sent text messages to be later translated, a process which is related in detail in the introduction. Boochani has a master's degree in political science, political geography and geopolitics from Tehran. His acaedemic background gifting him with the ability to question and describe in detail his gruelling experiences.

Characters come alive under his narrative, the reader is introduced to life in Manus prison. The stultifying boredom and endless queues. A system designed to break the inmates whose only crime is to seek asylum.

No Friend but the Mountains by Behouz Boochani
No Friend but the Mountains by Behouz Boochani


The author, Richard Flanagan, describes the conditions on Manus in the preface as 'Lives stripped of all meaning'. Flanagan goes on to state 'The book is a profound victory for a young poet who showed us all how much words can still matter.' Boochani relates the only possession he treasures on his journey seeking asylum is a book of poetry which manages to survive his long arduous trek.

No Friend but the Mountains by Behouz Boochani
No Friend but the Mountains by Behouz Boochani


Words have meaning and power as told by Boochani, who proceeds to tell the dehumanising stories of his day to day life on Manus Island. The relentless heat, deprivation, starvation and hopelessness. What is all the more alarming is that this articulate and learned man remains on Manus Island to this day.

Winner of The Victorian Prize for Literature, and the Prize for Non-Fiction, Victorian Premier's Literary Awards 2019.
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Why? Writing from Manus Prison
Where: On sale at all good bookstores and online
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