The Refugee Book Secretly Written On WhatsApp From Manus
'It represents how free a human being can be if they resist.'
For a man imprisoned for years on a distant speck of an island, cut off from communication but for a smuggled mobile phone, it's ironic that Behrouz Boochani has achieved a technological world first.
His book, 'No Friend But The Mountains', is thought to be the first novel ever written entirely via text message.
"I was scared of the authorities, the guards. Anytime they could come and take our property. Imagine if I wrote my book on paper and lost it," the Iranian journalist and refugee told ten daily from Manus Island.
"That's why I decided to write on WhatsApp and send it. When I sent messages, I felt relieved, because I was sure my friend saved them."
Boochani has been on Papua New Guinea's Manus Island since 2014, first in the Australian-run detention centre and now in an Australian-funded accommodation facility with other refugees.
'No Friend...' is part autobiography, part history reference book, part political analysis, part philosophical musing on prison and life and freedom and politics.
Translated from flowing Farsi into English by University of Sydney academic Dr Omid Tofighian, the book is Boochani's message to the world -- and to the Australian government -- after half a decade on the distant island, with no prospect of resettlement in Australia.
"I wrote this book in very hard situation, a place I call a war zone," Boochani said. He speaks English in a strong accent, his voice coming down a crackling phone line.
"The people in this book are not criminal, not dangerous. They have families. I hope people understand this plight and understand refugees are simple people like them.
"I pushed my body to near breakdown in order to write it because I believe in this book and I believe it has the potential to create change," he added in a recent Facebook post.
Boochani is no stranger to Australians, a trusted source of information for journalists and continually churning out a startling amount of work published in local media outlets from The Guardian and HuffPost to ten daily, all tapped out on his phone from prison.
Despite the now-decommissioned detention camp technically being known as the Manus Island Regional Processing Centre, he has forever called it "Manus prison".
It's a deliberate choice.
"He names it, he defines it… conceptually he owns the prison," Tofighian wrote in a foreword to the book.
Tofighian said the book's collation was painstaking, with Boochani sending long messages to himself and another translator, Moones Mansoubi.
At one point, Boochani's phone was confiscated so he sent paragraphs back via voice message on a borrowed phone instead.
"It’s definitely sad, definitely a tragedy. But at the same time it's empowering," Tofighian said of the book.
"It represents how free a human being can be if they resist, and use the limited resources they have available to stand up against the system."
In another foreword to the book, acclaimed Australian author Richard Flanagan remarks on the "near impossibility of its existence" and calls it a "miracle of courage and creative tenacity".
The book begins with Boochani and other refugees sneaking to a smuggler's boat in the dead of night in Indonesia, hoping to reach Australia. The boat sinks, but they are rescued in time. In one of the book's constant tone shifts from recount to artistic exercise, he includes a poem of his thoughts as the boat begins to sink:
I don't want to succumb to the inevitability of death Especially somewhere so far away from my motherland I don't want to die out there surrounded by water And more water
Boochani intended the book as a companion piece to his film Chauka Please Tell Us The Time -- Boochani refers to them as "twins" -- which he shot himself on his mobile phone from Manus.
The book reflects on the theme of systematic torture, the physical and psychological effects of indefinite detention.
Stuck in a sweltering camp for years, often without proper food, water or medical care he has watched friends and family senselessly die or suffer horrific injuries.
Unlike criminals with a jail sentence, who have actually committed a crime, they had no idea when or if they would ever leave the camps.
Government policy since the Kevin Rudd years has been that these refugees would never be resettled in Australia. It's a heart-breaking proposition for men stuck in prison with no way forward and no way to return home.
"Five years is too long to destroy people," Boochani said.
"I hope people, when they read it, they understand our situation and understand the concepts of systematic torture."