ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – An Iranian Kurd has been awarded Australia's richest literary prize for a book that he wrote while held in a notorious Australian detention center.
Behrouz Boochani, an asylum seeker from the Kurdish city of Ilam, arrived in Australia by boat in 2013. He was immediately captured and transported to one of the country's offshore immigration processing center, located on Papua New Guinea's Manus Island.
Speaking with Kurdistan 24 in his mother tongue late Friday, Boochani addressed the role that being a Kurd played in his work, and spoke of his plans for the future.
"This book... is two parts. The first is about the prison and asylum seekers," he said, adding that, in the second part, "I talk a lot about the problem of the Kurds."
"There is tragedy in the modern history of Kurds," the author stated.
He continued with a call for nationless people to work to "communicate" the events of their lives through works of literature and art, as he did.
Four years into his detention, Boochani produced a documentary film with his mobile phone that depicted the day-to-day life of refugees in the camp, as reported by The Guardian.
Due to the poor quality of the available internet connection, he was forced to send out the movie one clip at a time. The connection would continue to limit his communications, as he was only able to send out his later work, for which he received the literary prize, chapter by chapter through messaging apps.
In 2018, he finished his debut novel, entitled, "No Friends But Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison," which won him the 2019 Victorian Premier's Literary Awards of $25,000 AUD for a work of non-fiction and an additional $100,000 AUD for the Victorian Prize for Literature. The amount of money totals approximately $90,000 USD, as announced on Thursday.
The book is a "voice of witness, an act of survival. A lyric first-hand account. A cry of resistance. A vivid portrait through five years of incarceration and exile," the awards committee said in a statement on the website of the Wheeler Centre for Books, Writing and Ideas, which administers the prize.
The judges' report stated that Boochani produced "a stunning work of art and critical theory which evades simple description," and used "distinctive narrative formation... from critical analysis to thick description to poetry to dystopian surrealism. The writing is beautiful and precise, blending literary traditions emanating from across the world, but particularly from within Kurdish practices."
Translation of the work, done by Omid Tofighian, also received high praise, with the report continuing that "the clarity with which ideas and knowledge are expressed is also a triumph of literary translation."
Boochani is one of almost 600 refugees that still reside on Manus' camps, where the tough conditions that asylum seekers are subjected to have drawn widespread criticism.
He told Kurdistan 24, "In the future, I will continue my works and activities," speaking through Skype from Manus Island. "Right now, I am working on two other books, set to be published very soon."
Australia claims its policies are meant to stop deaths of refugees caused by traffickers who bring them for money on boats that are often unsafe and can capsize or sink. Authorities at the processing centers are purportedly telling asylum seekers the would never be allowed on mainland Australia.
Editing by John J. Catherine