Book Review: The Mother Wound by Amani Haydar

A memoir of violence that confronts both personal and political dimensions.

Amani Haydar’s The Mother Wound is a stunning feminist memoir about gender-related and intergenerational violence and victimhood. Haydar suffered the unimaginable when she lost her mother in a brutal act of domestic violence perpetrated by her father in 2015. While her candid storytelling shows how she struggled to reconcile her relationship with her father, some of the most emotionally charged moments in the book are when she talks about the physical toll the grief took on her then five-month pregnancy.

Haydar’s social commentary and legal analysis also adds an important layer to existing dialogue as she considers whether cultural expectations could be contributing to gender-related violence in the home. A Muslim woman herself, Haydar revisited her mother’s arranged marriage, and began to see the emotional abuse and coercion she suffered through after moving to Australia with a man 13 years her senior.

In the aftermath of the murder, Haydar also had to cope with the media and reactions from her father’s family. She gives insight into this period through a thorough analysis of victimhood, theorising why many victims struggle to connect with others after trauma. Her discussion on vulnerability and shame is both raw and sophisticated, mixing academic research with empathetic reflections of her mother.

A lawyer herself, Haydar provides legal analysis of her father’s court case, comparing it to other recent rulings. This becomes quickly distressing as she considers the very real possibility of her father being found not guilty.

Not surprisingly, Haydar’s book is shaped by her relationships with her family. When exploring intergenerational violence, Haydar contrasts her experiences with domestic violence with a much earlier tragedy, the 2006 war and occupation of Lebanon. Here Haydar traces the lineage of intergenerational trauma, revisiting how her grandmother was brutally killed while fleeing her village on a civilian convoy. Haydar’s childhood anecdotes show how this war formed a backdrop of violence in her home, the grief later being irrevocably tangled up with her mother’s murder.

Perhaps the most powerful part of the book is when Haydar tries to understand those who have hurt her. When considering the inaction of others in her life, Haydar says it’s easier for them to support the perpetrator and do nothing, than to support the victim who demands action. This strength is what makes this work so captivating. Haydar reflects on her experiences with fury and power, though she also manages to speak honestly, and intimately, about grief and survivor guilt. Her graceful reflections of her mother are also heartbreaking, though her activism is perhaps the most powerful ending one could hope for given what Haydar has had to overcome.

4.5 stars

The Mother Wound by Amani Haydar
Publisher: Macmillan Australia
ISBN: 9781760982454
Format: Trade Paperback
Pages: 352
Pub Date: 29/06/2021
Price: $34.99

Karen Lowry
About the Author
Karen Lowry has a PhD in electronic literature and is working on her first novel. She currently teaches creative writing at Curtin University and Graphic Design at Murdoch University. Her non-fiction articles and reviews have been published in The Digital Review, The Guardian, Fringefeed, X-Press Magazine and The Conversation. Her creative publications have appeared in Australian Poetry Journal, dotdotdash and WRIT Poetry Review. In 2017 Karen collaborated with author, David Thomas Henry Wright, to create a digital interface for his novella Paige & Powe, which was shortlisted for the 2017 Queensland Literary Awards.