973 Behrouz Boochani, No Friend but the Mountains

I have ordered a new book, after reading in the paper about this Kurdish refugee winning a literary prize. His story is something to behold … for all Australians.

Read also: How many more people must die on Manus before Australia ends indefinite detention? Behrouz Boochani, The Guardian

Impassioned refugee tale wins national biography prize

by Linda Morris, SMH

Kurdish refugee and journalist Behrouz Boochani says future generations will one day judge this "dark period in Australian history", after accepting his fourth major literary prize for his insider's account of detention on Manus Island.

Boochani's No Friend But the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison was on Monday awarded the $25,000 National Biography Award, the nation's richest prize for biographical writing, at the State Library of NSW.

Accepting the prize using WhatsApp, Boochani said the literary community was an important part of Australian civil society and "resistance". "I think it is very valuable, and I do appreciate everyone for recognising my work," he said.

"I think history will judge this generation and will judge all of us in this hard and dark period of Australian history."

Boochani's autobiography tells how the journalist-activist fled Iran in 2013 under fear of persecution and made the journey from Indonesia to Australia by boat unaware of the Australian government's decision to deny permanent settlement to any asylum seekers who arrived by boat. Six years later he is still refused entry.

The judges, Margy Burn, Dr Georgina Arnott and Prof Iain McCalman praised Boochani's No Friend But the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison as an "astonishing act of witness and testament to the lifesaving power of writing as resistance".

Written in Farsi as a series of text messages sent to his translator and friend Omid Tofighian, the book was an "impassioned letter" to the authorities who would define Boochani as MEG45, his number in detention, the judges said.

"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."

The writing was poetic and epic and steeped in the tradition of Persian culture and belief systems, the judges said. "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."

Feted by the literary world, No Friend But the Mountainshas been honoured by NSW Premier's Literary Awards, Victorian Premier's Literary Awards and Australian Book Industry Awards.