Book Review: The Mother Wound by Amani Haydar

I received a text message from Australian Post advising me that my parcel was safely delivered. Finally, it arrived! The red and white paper parcel sat on my doormat. I picked it up and left it on my kitchen benchtop for the day. I knew it was Amani Haydar’s memoir but I hesitated to read it as caring for my children during lockdown left little space for me to engage deeply with the subject matter at hand. Murder. Abuse. Terror. It collected dust for a week before I tore open the packaging and began to read.

The Mother Wound explores different forms of trauma from domestic violence, victim-blaming and war just to name a few. The way Amani unpicks these issues as an Arab-Australian Muslim woman is incredibly important because of the Islamophobia birthed after 9/11 by mainstream media. As I read her memoir, I found myself nodding in solidarity as Amani unravelled the injustices of the law and confronts the patriarchy and White supremacy. Her work reminded me of a guerrera, a warrior.

This painful yet empowering book starts off with a prologue where Amani is giving birth to her daughter soon after her mother had been stabbed and murdered by her father. During the pain of labour, Amani’s mind transitions from the birthing room into a “rectangular grave”. She describes with poignancy and poetry, “I breathed in and the grave swelled into a cave, expanding, like a lung made of brown soil, like a uterus, its walls wet with mud”. This line stood out because of its imagery. The way Amani uses figurative language to encapsulate her inner world of triggered trauma resonated with every single one of my nerves. The specific metaphor made me feel deeply connected to her pain. Such is the power of good writing.

Throughout the memoir, Amani recounts with a lawyer’s mind, a grieving daughter’s heart and an artist’s eye, the intimate details of her ‘mother wound’, especially when it comes to coercive control. Through this memoir, we learn from a first-hand experience how coercive control is: a form of abuse which in many cases, translates into physical violence and sometimes death.

By expanding our knowledge of coercive control, Amani is able to explore the failings of the justice system to victims of domestic abuse. One excellent example of how policies fail to respond to risk factors that Amani provides is when she was ineligible for Parental Leave Pay because she had, “taken too much time off work after Mum’s funeral”. As a daughter who had to hide from her father for safety, sometimes fleeing with nothing but the clothes on me, I teared-up with fury as I read this.

It made me relive the times my mother made hard phone calls to Centrelink, explaining how grabbing her documentation was the last thing on her mind when she fled her husband. Domestic violence cannot be framed in a box. The system cannot put an end by date for women who are trying to recover from deeply traumatic situations such as what Amani had lived. An Australian Parliamentary report in 2014 stated that, “many women experience financial risk or poverty as a result of domestic violence” and Psychology Today explains that financial need is one of the reasons why women stay in an abusive relationship. Therefore, withholding money from women experiencing DV, when one woman in Australia is killed a week by their current or former partner is literally a life-or-death sentence. Domestic violence survivors should have exemption from the fine print, there should be leniency and empathy written in these policies, as well as flexibility because every situation is different and complex.  Rightfully, Amani reminds us about the urgency of addressing and amending these failings within the system by quoting her lecturer in law school, “Don’t confuse justice with the law”.

In all this, Amani also ensures to keep expertly crafted writing at the forefront of her memoir. Just like in the books Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Márquez and The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende, Amani uses the literary technique of foreshadowing by revealing her mother’s murder right from the very beginning, hence disclosing the main conflict of the story. But she entices us to keep reading by finishing the prologue with the luring line, “I am so happy to have a daughter. I am from a family of strong women”. By doing this Amani expertly develops the plot, her characters and the theme of her memoir.

Her foreshadowing is what encourages the reader to delve deeper into how Amani has used language to reflect her own personal story and flair for language. I particularly enjoyed the narrative hook, which she sketches on page 162. It’s about halfway of the story where Amani mentions the drafted supplementary statement which contained, ‘this crucial thing, this memory, the Big secret” and she doesn’t start to paint the content of this “thing” until page 201 when she finally spills the excerpt from the supplementary statement. Without giving spoilers, let me assure you the wait was worth it.

Additionally, this brilliant book disentangles the injustices and the intergenerational trauma of war which the Arab-Australian diaspora live vicariously through visually raw news reports and terrifying phone calls to loved ones back home. Amani depicts this issue through the retelling of the death of her dear Teta (grandmother) in Lebanon by an Israeli airstrike in 2006. Heartbreakingly, Amani and her family find out that her Teta had died via Al Jazeera news which their family television was always set to. Hauntingly, they were unable to call back home to confirm who was alive and who was with Teta at the time of her death because, “they (her family) would have to come out of the basement and up into the house to answer the phone.” She concludes that, “Teta’s death is an injustice that has been denied a language and a response … there was no trail and no accountability”.

But from page 321 to 325, Amani weaves hope into her grandmother’s and her mother’s narratives by juxtaposing an anthropological recount of Teta’s household guide to crocheting alongside her own healing journey, from sending off the paperwork for her mother’s estate to painting a triptych self-portrait for the Archibald Prize. Amani indeed comes from a line of strong women and as a woman, it was an honour to know them through this book.

There is so much more to say about this book, but I have a 2-year-old to tend to and home-schooling a 9-year-old, so I will say this, I wish I found a book like this when I was trying to survive my own form of coercion and trauma. Empowering quotes from The Mother Wound such as, “No one has the right to hurt you, not even your parents. You are never obliged to forgive someone who has hurt you, but you have the choice to do so if it feels safe and right for you. It is never, ever your responsibility to carry another person’s mistakes”, would have given me courage when the ground I walked on felt like shards at the soles of my feet. When I felt I was always to blame. When my mouth was forced shut. So, I’m thankful that this story is now tangible for survivors and for all women to read. This memoir is the most important book I have ever read as it helped me unpack my own trauma. In this way, I think it will save many women’s lives.

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