Behrouz Boochani grew up in Iran, where he worked as a journalist and wrote of protecting the Kurdish culture, when his magazine’s offices were stormed by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Boochani escaped to Indonesia, where he battled starvation and homelessness. He flung his hopes on two precarious boat trips to Australia in an effort to seek political asylum. The book opens with his second attempt.
“One imagines one’s own death differently to the death of others. I can’t imagine it. Could it be that these trucks travelling in convoy, rushing towards the ocean, are couriers of death?
Surely not while they carry children /
How is it possible? /
How could we drown in the ocean? /
I am convinced that my own death will be different /
It will take place in a more tranquil setting.
What follows are the horrors that only those who have fled death, only to endure worse human atrocities, can know. Boochani and the other asylum-seekers nearly drown, but they are rescued by a British tanker. Their troubles worsen: days earlier, the Australian government chose to send all ‘boat people’ to Manus and Nauru to make an example of them: come to Australia, and you will be detained indefinitely, despite it being legal to seek asylum.
This book is horrifically stunning. You can see, smell, and taste every experience. Boochani is a sensitive narrator, a harsh self-critic, and an astute observer of humanity and the psychology of trauma, torture, and despair.
The mind boggles as to how this book was written, let alone that we can hold it in our hands. Encouraged by Janet Galbraith, Boochani’s Farsi was smuggled out in snatches by phone and painstakingly translated by esteemed lecturer Omid Tofighian.
Five years on, the Nauru and Manus detainees remain, having witnessed violence, torture, sexual assault, self-harm, and suicide, with no hope of a future and nowhere to run.
In his foreword, Australian writer Richard Flanagan echoes Boochani: off-shore or not; Australia, this is what we have become.