‘The last time I saw my mum alive, she was vibrant.’
In March 2015, Amani Haydar’s father killed her mother, Salwa Haydar. He also injured his youngest daughter, Ola, during his frenzied attack. Pregnant with her first child, Amani had to go to the Kogarah Police Station to give a statement. Her father had turned himself into the police.
Why did Haydar Haydar kill his wife of 28 years, the mother of his four children? While the Haydars had recently separated after an unhappy marriage, Amani recalled that while her parents had fought a lot, her father had never bashed her mother.
In this memoir, Ms Haydar writes of her family’s experiences of war in Lebanon, of her parents arranged marriage, of her grandmother’s brutal killing during the 2006 war. Culture and context are important, as is the complexity of intergenerational trauma.
In the six years that have passed since Salwa Haydar was murdered, Ms Haydar has reassessed what she knew of her parents’ relationship, and the different faces and layers of domestic violence. She wonders if she should have realised earlier that her mother was at risk? There may not have been an history of what she recognised as physical domestic violence but there certainly was of emotional abuse and of coercive control.
How can Ms Haydar’s book be both terribly sad and tremendously uplifting? How can anyone move beyond the trauma of losing two parents to looking for ways to make a difference for others as well as for herself? And, importantly, how does Ms Haydar negotiate the ‘othering’ experienced when negative stereotypes (both in relation to domestic violence and to Muslims) are applied? Ms Haydar and her sisters have also had to deal with being ostracised and abused by family members who support her father.
‘Storytelling cracks the crust of shame imposed on victims and shifts the burden to where it rightfully belongs: spitting and smouldering in the palms of the abuser.’
This is a difficult book to read, and I admire Ms Haydar’s courage in confronting so many issues to write it. There is despair here and grief. There is also hope, support, strength, and resilience. Ms Haydar invites us to look at the stereotypes of victims as well, reminding us that it is okay to be angry. Ms Haydar recounts the trauma of her father’s trial, with its victim-blaming and false accusations against her mother.
In 2018, Ms Haydar had an entry in the Archibald Prize. Her painting is a self-portrait in which she holds a photograph of her mother, who holds a photograph of her own mother. I find this moving and uplifting. Three strong women, together.
This is not an easy book to read, but it is important. Highly recommended.
‘We are in a process of breaking cycles, and we are imperfect.’
Note: My thanks to NetGalley and PanMacmillan Australia for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.