It is easy to see how BineBine became “the star of the prison block”: as well as his gift for storytelling and generous grasp of ethics, he has a keen eye for absurdity. The food may be appalling but the corollary of his constantly roiling stomach is the warmth he can harvest from his flatulence: no fart is wasted. Denied even an onion to draw out the pus of his suppurating thumb, he urinates on it instead: “I had achieved total self-sufficiency.” When a needle is fashioned from a scrap of metal (“This took … months of patience and work”), “we’d passed from the Stone Age to the Bronze”.
‘A coward is more dangerous than a cruel man,’ BineBine writes. A month before one man died, an owl flew in at the same time each evening and hooted for a while; on the night that he died, it stayed away. Anyone could die for lack of the most basic care, of gangrene or bronchitis. The guards would take him out in his blanket and drop him into a pit, sprinkle him with lime, slide a corrugated iron sheet over the body and fill it back in. For all the suffering, this isn’t a depressing book. On the contrary, it is compulsively readable and even uplifting, because the lesson BineBine imparts is one of love and dry-eyed compassion.