When journalism isn't enough: "horror surrealism" in Behrouz Boochani's testimonial prison narrative

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The journalist, filmmaker and author, Behrouz Boochani, has been forcibly detained on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea (PNG), for the past five years at the direction of the Australian government. His prison narrative, No friend but the mountains (2018), uses prose, poetry, allegory and political theory to depict the conditions the refugees and asylum seekers endure in detention. Described by his translator as ‘horrific surrealism’ (2018a: xxx, 2018b: 367), it was written on a smuggled smartphone hidden in Boochani’s mattress and sent out bit by bit in text messages via WhatsApp to translators in Australia. Written in Farsi, the language of the oppressors of the Kurds, and translated into English, the language of his jailers, it is a powerful indictment of Australia’s immigration policies, particularly as they affect refugees and asylum seekers arriving at Australia’s north by boat from Indonesia. This paper examines No friend but the mountains as an example of a politically motivated text that functions not only as prison narrative but also as literary memoir and testimonial literature. It is the latest in Boochani’s ongoing efforts to witness the experience of imprisonment on Manus Island, while resisting Australian government policy, and calling for the humane treatment of refugees and asylum seekers.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)17-24
Number of pages8
JournalEthical space : the international journal of communication ethics
Issue number3/4
Publication statusPublished - 30 Oct 2018


  • Behrouz Boochani
  • testimonial prison narratives
  • No Friend but the Mountains
  • refugees


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