Behrouz Boochani, a Kurdish Iranian journalist currently in detention in Papua New Guinea’s Manus Prison, has won the 2019 Victorian Prize for Literature for his debut book, ‘No Friend But the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison.’ Along with this prize worth 100,000 Australian dollars, the book also won the Victorian Prize for non-fiction worth 25,000 Australian dollars. Interestingly, the book was written through WhatsApp messages from Manus Island, where was detained. Boochani wrote the book in his native language, Farsi, and sent the messages to his translator, Omid Tofighian.
Ironically, the same country that has put him in detention has honoured him with this award.
Boochani was detained in 2013 when he arrived in Australia from South East Asia through a boat. Australia’s stringent immigration policy on asylum seekers that arrive by boat requires them to be processed at offshore centres. Even if the refugees are found to be genuine, they cannot take shelter in Australia. While the island nation believes that such a policy will discourage malicious attempts to enter the country, human rights activists and the United Nations have disapproved of this policy. He left Iran to escape the crackdown of the government on journalists.
Also, a massive deviation from the regular norms was made for the book. Ideally, writers that win the awards must be Australian citizens or permanent residents of Australia. However, an exception was made for this “stunning work of art.”
The book is an autobiographical account of his journey from Indonesia to Australia, his detention, and incarceration. Unfortunately, Boochani himself couldn’t be there to collect the award. His translator, Tofighian collected the prize on his behalf.