The Other Half of You by Michael Mohammed Ahmad

‘Rust is my blood. Stardust is my soul.’

This novel is presented as a story by Bani Adam to his son Kahlil. It is the story of how Bani, a young Australian Lebanese Muslim man fell found his place in the world, and the balance he found between traditional community expectations and his own aspirations.

The story unfolds in three sections:

All that was

All that is

 All that will be.

We learn of Bani’s traditional upbringing, the expectation that he will marry within his own Alawite Muslim tribe, and work with his family. Bani is the first member of his family to achieve a tertiary education: a mixed blessing which attracts both ridicule and admiration.

And through this novel (I have not read Mr Ahmad’s other novels – yet) I am drawn into a world I am less familiar with inside Western Sydney. Bani wants the freedom to make his own choices, but his family see that as a rejection of all they hold dear. A series of matchmaking attempts follow as Bani’s family tries to find a wife from within the Alawite community. A brief but unsuccessful traditional marriage, which his wife agrees to because she sees it as a way of obtaining her own freedom, ends as neither of them can meet the expectations imposed. Bani tries to conform but cannot.

Who is Bani? Can he step outside his family’s expectations and beyond his own prejudices to find his own more comfortable place in the world? Can the young man in flared jeans achieve his objectives?

Bani falls in love with a woman he chose for himself, the woman who becomes Khalil’s mother, the woman we come to know gradually as the story unfolds. Both will need to compromise, as will their families.

‘With all due respect Kahlil, I know I was being harsh on her, but please don’t be too harsh on me: I am the other, and you are half the other and your mother is the other half of you.’

I finished this novel, wanting to reread it after I have read ‘The Tribe’ and ‘The Lebs’. This is not just a novel about a migrant experience, it is a novel that touches on difference and othering, on ‘Us’ and ‘Them’ but finishes with hope: ‘We’.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith