The winner of Australia’s most esteemed literary prize could not attend the ceremony.
Today, Kurdish Iranian writer Behrouz Boochani won the Victorian Prize for Literature for his book, No Friend But the Mountains. Composed one text message at a time from an offshore detention center in Papua New Guinea, the novel has won a $25,000 and $100,000 prize in a country that denied this author refuge and continues to detain him. One of Behrouz Boochani’s greatest achievements should highlight what many perceive as present-day Australia’s greatest shame.
IMAGE VIA SBS NEWS
The experimental format of Boochani’s book was not an artistic decision—it was a necessity. While seeking refuge in Australia, the author was detained on Manus Island, a notorious offshore detention facility. Since he feared for his safety and the safety of his work, he wrote his novel entirely over WhatsApp messenger—and over the course of five years. He was right to be afraid: during his time at the detention center, he witnessed suicide attempts, riots, and murders. His phone was taken twice. “Imagine if I had written this book on paper,” Boochani said, “I would definitely have lost it.”
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Boochani might have won a significant sum, but money was never his aim in writing the book. Instead, he sought to share his experience of immigration and detention:
My main aim has always been for the people in Australia and around the world to understand deeply how this system has tortured innocent people on Manus and Nauru in a systematic way for almost six years. I hope this award will bring more attention to our situation and create change.
Image Via MO MAgazine
Although the detention camps have been legally closed, their continued existence bodes ill for Australia as a nation and for the people still left inside. LGBT+ people particular have suffered in these camps: in Papua New Guinea, homosexuality is still a crime. Gay men in the immigration detention facility can face up to fourteen years in prison. Boochani describes the camps as “barbaric.”
Boochani may have written the book to spread awareness of these cruelties, but, he admits, there was also another reason. Writing helped him to keep his humanity, his identity, he said. Writing was the thing that allowed him to survive.
Featured Image Via The Guardian