For more than two decades, Australia has locked up people who arrive here fleeing persecution—sometimes briefly, sometimes for years. In They Cannot Take the Sky those people tell their stories, in their own words. Speaking from inside detention on Manus Island and Nauru, or from within the Australian community after their release, the narrators reveal not only their extraordinary journeys and their daily struggles, but also their meditations on love, death, hope and injustice. Their candid testimonies are at times shocking and hilarious, surprising and devastating. They are witnesses from the edge of human experience.
The first-person narratives in They Cannot Take the Sky range from epic life stories to heartbreaking vignettes. The narrators who have shared their stories have done so despite the culture of silence surrounding immigration detention, and the real risks faced by those who speak out. Once you have heard their voices you will never forget them.
They Cannot Take the Sky is published by Allen & Unwin. It was published in March 2017 and is available in all good bookstores and online. It’s also available as an audio book by Audible, read by Nakkiah Lui and Omar Musa.
Praise for They Cannot Take the Sky
‘A great and powerful chorus that sings the possibility of a hope that Australia has been denying itself’ —Christos Tsiolkas
‘We have waited too long for an anthology like this. Deftly drawn, wide-ranging, and painstakingly edited and collected, these engaging stories from immigration detention are desperate and passionate; harrowing and inspirational; beautiful and forlorn. This book will boil your blood, break your heart, and trawl the darkest recesses of your mind. It will make Australians ask – again – of ourselves: what kind of people are we, and how did we possibly let it come to this?’ —Maxine Beneba Clarke
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More praise for They Cannot Take the Sky
‘In the richly woven polyphony of this book, we hear asylum seekers—both those who made it past all obstacles and those still imprisoned in hell-holes in the Pacific—tell of their hopes and fears, of the horrors they fled from and the soul-destroying tedium of the limbo state, of the deliberately inhuman treatment they have suffered in the camps and the many kindnesses of individual teachers and volunteers. They emerge as brave and resourceful people who ought to have been welcomed with open arms but instead have become pawns in an obscure game played between the political parties. As a matter of policy they have been turned into non-people, their names erased, their images blanked out, their voices silenced. The interviewers, editors and translators who put together They Cannot Take the Sky are to be thanked for enabling them to emerge into the light and break the silence.’ —J.M. Coetzee
‘I welcome They Cannot Take the Sky as an urgent and much needed addition to the canon of Australian literature. These stories of perilous journeys from dangerous homelands to rightfully and justly seek asylum in Australia, and our rejection and brutal treatment of refugees – the men, women and children who only dream of having a chance to live a safe life like you and me, will be remembered in the history of the world as being among the most important stories of rejection of those in most desperate need of our times. These are the stories you will read and never forget. All Australians must read this book. We can and must do better than this.’ —Alexis Wright
‘To understand ourselves as a society it is vital that we listen to and read the stories of others; the stories of people who are suffering, people with stories of courage, people living live of hope under extreme difficulty. The generosity and bravery contained in the stories presented in They Cannot Take the Sky offer us, here in Australia, the potential to be better, to be accepting and open. It is time for us to read and listen.’ —Tony Birch
‘Read this book—it will make you ashamed to be an Australian, but proud to be part of a humankind that can cope so imaginatively with unjust imprisonment. There are great people in these stories—sometimes, Serco guards—as well as bad—the Christian politicians who, if there is a hell, will burn in it for the suffering they have caused to these innocents. These authors can be witty, sometimes hilarious, always insightful, loving and even, mirabile dictu, forgiving—and boy do we need forgiveness for mandatory detention.’ —Geoffrey Robertson
‘These haunting stories, narrated by asylum seekers, are breathtaking in their honesty, the intensity of their lived-experience, and their depth of feeling. Epic in scope, and in their attention to searing detail, I read them with a sense of surprise at the many twists and pendulum swings, from hope to despair, from acts of brutality to unexpected kindnesses. And with a sense of wonder, that such insight, eloquence, and paradoxical moments of love and beauty, can emerge from so much suffering.’ —Arnold Zable
‘So many Australians have such strong opinions on asylum seeker policy, despite never hearing from asylum seekers themselves. The importance of reading these voices and first-hand stories cannot be underestimated. This should be mandatory reading for every voting-age Australian.’ —Benjamin Law
‘By turns, raw, defiant, eloquent, tragic, angry, hopeful, despairing and funny, these voices from behind the wire bear compelling witness to the human cost of Australia’s border protection policies. To pay attention to these stories is to know we must do things differently and to remember that the universal aspiration to a dignified life is the essential human quality that should guide our thinking.’ —Peter Mares
‘This book is testament to the resilience and honour of human beings. How is it that people—sometimes teenagers, alone—who have fled persecution and mortal danger only to find torture at Australian hands can react with humour, humanity, insight, concern for those they’ve left behind, and even sometimes for their guards? This book is extraordinary and humbling and necessary. Australia has gone rogue at international law. Behaving illegally, our politicians have the nerve to call people fleeing persecution ‘illegals’. This must stop. As one of the contributors, Amir Taghinia, puts it, in words that might apply to our sense of what it is to be Australian, as well as to an individual being persecuted: “There might not be a reset button.”’ —Anna Funder
‘I could quote all the philosophers and prophets in the world to urge the Australian public to remember their humanity, but it won’t make the people seeking asylum anymore real. Only the people themselves can do that, which is why the Australian government has gone to such lengths to silence asylum seekers and the people who work with them. But in this overdue collection, Australia’s imprisoned refugees finally speak. They describe the island prisons journalists are not allowed to visit, the lives they left behind and the lives they want so much to begin. There are curious and unexpected revelations too, a growing love of place in Christmas Island, a refugee learning to herd huge crabs off a road, a connection made with an old woman in a Manus Island jungle. There is a longing for connection, be it sex and touch, or expression as one young woman’s weekly newsletter is shut down. Who would have thought? The detained refugees the Australian government has spirited away to island prisons are human.’ —Anna Krien
‘This is a book whose human, frank, illuminating voices the government does not want to hear. In the end Australia will hear and honour these life histories, and honestly acknowledge Australia’s shameful part in them. They Cannot Take the Sky brings that day so much closer.’ —Tom Keneally