The Mother Wound by Amani Haydar

Amani Haydar suffered the unimaginable when she lost her mother in a brutal act of domestic violence perpetrated by her father. Haydar was five months pregnant at the time, and her own perception of how she wanted to mother (and how she had been mothered) was shaped by the murder. In The Mother Wound, Haydar reflects on her parents’ marriage, her family’s history, and the social and cultural context in which she grew up.

We couldn’t call it ‘the night Mum died’ because she didn’t just drop dead. All of the available words betrayed reality.

What was most striking about this memoir, was Haydar’s clear account of her childhood, when she ‘…hadn’t yet found the language of abuse…’ but understood her parents’ relationship was bound by cultural, religious and personal complexities that she didn’t fully understand –

It is hard to spot a red flag in a man who is simply doing what everyone else is doing.

Haydar’s parents were brought together in an arranged marriage. Her mother was thirteen years her father’s junior, and their arrival in Australia was not all that her mother imagined on leaving Lebanon. Nevertheless, her mother forged a successful career, became involved in her community, and had a large network of friends.

Adding to the complexity of this story, was Haydar’s first experience of traumatic loss – in 2006, her maternal grandmother was brutally killed in the war in Lebanon, and unbelievably, her mother discovered this while watching the evening news in Australia.

The challenge in this memoir is cultural. On one hand, Haydar forces us to look through the cultural lens, to understand the impact of racism on her everyday life, and how that played a part in her mother’s murder. On the other, she asks the reader to ignore the cultural and social context, and see domestic violence for what it is, and her purely as a victim of a horrific crime.

I’d forgotten that my appearance would affect my right to participate in conversations on gender-based violence. How could I have forgotten? People were so accustomed to correlating Muslims with violence that I wasn’t allowed the compassion that might be extended to other victims. I wasn’t even allowed an opinion about my own mother’s death.

Haydar is a lawyer by profession, and her experience of the justice system as a victim adds another perspective to her story. When court proceedings begin, she is quickly reminded that ‘…truths also exist outside courtrooms and judgements’. It prompted me to think back on Kate Rossmanith’s excellent examination of how society views victims and manages remorse in Small Wrongs. Haydar says –

It is very tempting to take the side of the perpetrator. All the perpetrator asks is that the bystander do nothing…. The victim on the contrary, asks the bystander to share the burden of the pain. The victim demands action, engagement and remembering…

And with her father’s family more upset that he was in jail than the fact that her mother was dead, and putting continual pressure on Haydar and her siblings to forgive, she notes –

…in classical Islamic jurisprudence, remorse is seen as a personal and spiritual matter that does not mitigate the punishment or compensation able to be sought by victims of violent crime. It is seen as metaphysical, particularly in homicide, since the primary victim is not present to receive an apology anyway and no one truly has the right to accept one on their behalf.

Much of the memoir describes Haydar feeling her way through grief and trauma. I read a lot on these topics, and when I come across new words that capture the pain, they invariably hold my attention. Haydar does that, eloquently revealing the weight of (often contradictory) social expectations of the bereaved, and of the victim –

We want trauma to create revolutionaries; we look for the heroes who refuse to give up hope. We want to feel better about it all.

You must be grief-stricken and meek. Not wild with rage. Certainly not vengeful. The only good victim is a helpless one.

How is there any satisfactory ‘conclusion’ to a story like this? Haydar’s life adjusts around her grief; she finds ways of channeling her sadness, and ways of honouring her mother, of which The Mother Wound is one. In writing this book, Haydar has managed to do a particularly extraordinary thing – she tells her personal and unforgettable story, but she also tells speaks for the thousands of women and their families who are victims of domestic violence.

I received my copy of The Mother Wound from the publisher, Pan Macmillan Australia, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

4/5 Powerful.

Mirian brought me mjadara made by her mum. My appetite came back. I had never eaten mjadara that good.

4 responses

  1. This sounds like a very powerfully told story. I’ve been reading lately about how trauma–particularly childhood trauma–is portrayed in fiction (although I realize the book you’re discussing here is nonfiction). Finding both the right words and the right perspective is difficult.

  2. I saw her talk about this on The Drum awhile back and immediately put this book on my wishlist. Your review, the first I’ve seen, makes me want to read it even more.

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