Behrouz Boochani No Friend But the Moun­tains

Pi­cador, 416pp, $32.99

The Saturday Paper - - Books 2018 -

He has al­ways wanted to be a man; he has al­ways wanted to be ad­mit­ted to the mas­cu­line tribe. Yet, he learns, the world is so will­ing to give at­ten­tion, re­spect and un­earned credit to men that he feels un­able to set­tle com­fort­ably within his new dis­pen­sa­tion. He has suf­fered for too long the au­to­matic down­grades due to women to ac­cept the pa­tri­archy’s blind self-sat­is­fac­tions.

This is not a fem­i­nist cri­tique, how­ever. As

McBee grows ac­cus­tomed to the “wounded bal­let” of box­ing he also dis­cov­ers sym­pa­thy for men. They, too, are trapped in­side sys­tems of power that tend to pro­mul­gate vi­o­lence, that can be toxic. The bloody in­ti­macy of the sport is a po­tent metaphor here. McBee is will­ing to suf­fer bod­ily for his in­sights. And

their hav­ing been so hard­won, the reader can­not help but take them as ev­i­dence of wis­dom. His mes­sage? None of us need be the way we are.

My other book of the year was one I com­mis­sioned at Pi­cador via Face­book Mes­sen­ger from a man I’d never met – No Friend But the Moun­tains: Writ­ing

from Manus Prison by Kur­dish-Ira­nian jour­nal­ist Behrouz Boochani, beau­ti­fully trans­lated by Omid Tofighian. As Richard Flana­gan notes in his fore­word, the first tri­umph of the book is that it ex­ists at all. Our re­spon­si­bil­ity in turn, as read­ers and cit­i­zens, is to ab­sorb this epic of dis­place­ment and in­car­cer­a­tion – then loud­hail Behrouz’s tes­ti­mony

• from ev­ery rooftop.

— Ge­ordie Wil­liamson

No Friend But the

Moun­tains, the elec­tri­fy­ing “mem­oir of ideas” by the refugee jour­nal­ist-philoso­pher Behrouz Boochani is my book of the year. Boochani de­fied ev­ery at­tempt of suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments to deny refugees such as him a voice, trans­mit­ting the manuscript via text and What­sApp mes­sages from a smug­gled-in phone to his trans­la­tor and in­ter­locu­tor, Omid Tofighian. Such heroic de­fi­ance alone would make it a wor­thy book. But this is a great book, with a voice, as The Satur­day Paper re­view had it, that is “acer­bic yet com­pas­sion­ate, sor­row­ful but never self-in­dul­gent”.

Many good books have been writ­ten about the im­mi­gra­tion de­ten­tion regime, turned first by John Howard and then ev­ery gov­ern­ment since into an in­stru­ment of in­ten­tional tor­ment in the name of de­ter­rence. Refugees, ad­vo­cates, guards, teach­ers and oth­ers have pro­vided a wealth of per­sonal tes­ti­mony to the sys­tem’s cru­elty, as well as the hu­man­ity of its vic­tims. Jour­nal­ists have in­ves­ti­gated its his­tory and po­lit­i­cal pro­gres­sion. Boochani, writ­ing from the in­ner cir­cle of hell on Manus Is­land, has writ­ten an in­tensely per­sonal book that blends Kur­dish po­etry and le­gend, al­le­gory and the ob­ser­va­tion of na­ture (in­clud­ing hu­man na­ture) with a the­o­ret­i­cal frame­work in­spired by the work of the rad­i­cal fem­i­nist the­olo­gian Elis­a­beth Schüssler Fiorenza. His big idea is to ap­ply the no­tion of her “Kyr­i­ar­chal Sys­tem” of power and con­trol to the regime of off­shore de­ten­tion, ex­pos­ing the in­ter­nal, at times sur­real, logic of both pol­icy and prac­tice. No Friend But the Moun­tains

is many things. It is po­etry, phi­los­o­phy, prison mem­oir, cri de coeur. It’s not an easy book to read, be­cause Boochani does noth­ing to spare our feel­ings or our con­science, but it may well be the most im­por­tant one you’ll read for years to come.

Sisonke Msi­mang’s mov­ing mem­oir Al­ways

An­other Coun­try, about a life in ex­ile and the pol­i­tics of South Africa, is an­other stand­out. Msi­mang de­scribes her­self as “part of a tribe, we who oc­cupy the land of al­most-be­long­ing”. Witty and in­sight­ful, she also il­lus­trates how the pol­i­tics of race in South Africa was fur­ther com­pli­cated by gen­der and class. A com­ing-of-age tale that is at once heart­break­ing, funny and warm.

I also rec­om­mend Michael Pem­broke’s Korea: Where the Amer­i­can

Cen­tury Be­gan. Pem­broke, a New South Wales Supreme Court judge whose fa­ther served in the Korean War, ex­poses in chilling de­tail the ex­tent of Gen­eral Dou­glas MacArthur and the Amer­i­can gov­ern­ment’s cul­pa­bil­ity in the war, in­clud­ing the hor­rors in­flicted on the Kore­ans of the north, and on the Al­lied sol­diers as well. The war paved the way for Amer­ica’s rise as a neo-im­pe­rial su­per­power. It also made in­evitable the on­go­ing con­flict and suf­fer­ing on the Korean penin­sula to­day. This is his­tory as ter­ri­fy­ing and grip­ping as the best thriller.

If you’re look­ing for some­thing more cheer­ful, go straight to the de­light­ful

The Year of the Farmer

by Ros­alie Ham. Big laughs aplenty in this com­edy of man­ners set in a small ru­ral

• Aus­tralian town.

— Linda Jaivin

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