Books

‘The Mother Wound’: Amani Haydar’s memoir delivers revelation after revelation

Amani Haydar’s The Mother Wound deals with unspeakable tragedy. But in the process, it dispels many myths about domestic abuse and shows how we can learn through trauma.

Amani Haydar’s mother, Salwa, was murdered by her father, Haydar Haydar. There’s no hiding from the fact — Haydar even recalls sharing the news with a curious midwife just after giving birth to her first child. On one hand, The Mother Wound (Pan Macmillan) addresses the deeply personal trauma inflicted upon Amani Haydar and her siblings as a result of her father’s actions.

On the other, it’s a deep analysis of the impact that this crime had on her family and community, the myriad reactions to it, and why systemic failures and oppression exacerbate the effects of domestic abuse. 

Amani Haydar, The Mother Wound
Photo: Carly Earl/The Guardian

With graceful and economic prose, Haydar unfurls the story of her family. Viewing major life events with the benefit of hindsight, she can appreciate that the physically violent event that shattered her family wasn’t an isolated episode of abuse: instead, it was the culmination of years of destructive behaviour that centred around deliberate undermining, gaslighting, and coercive control.

The author also contextualises her family’s history. Her parents are from the south of Lebanon, specifically“…war-ravaged Aitaroun…” as Haydar explains it’s “…a place that lives in me more than I have lived in it.” It’s a concise, yet powerful observation: it speaks to the intergenerational trauma that coloured her family’s existence and manifested in the pressure to succeed that was brought to bear on Amani and her siblings. Her father was “…perpetually dissatisfied,” with his own circumstances — a simmering resentment that fostered an atmosphere of claustrophobia and fear.

Amani Haydar Insert Headline Here
Amani Haydar pictured with her Archibald Prize finalist self-portrait, ‘Insert Headline Here’: a tribute to her mother and grandmother.

Amani Haydar carried the burden of her parents’ expectations, achieving excellent grades on her way to becoming a lawyer. Through studying law, she met her husband and together embarked upon a married life of almost idyllic happiness and stability, both building successful careers, and on a path toward parenthood.

Amani Haydar was pregnant when her mother was killed. The sense of bewilderment and visceral pain that she conveys — with remarkable lucidity — speaks to her strength and insight as a writer. With every pang of anxiety and subsequent attack on her fingernails, you feel it.

Cataclysmic as it is, the story doesn’t end with this event. Its aftermath, the truths about domestic abuse, Haydar’s learning through the processing of trauma, and her ability to dissect the systems that perpetuate oppression and abuse (she possesses a formidable lawyer’s intellect) are nothing short of revelatory.

The Mother Wound

It’s also a clear-eyed and courageous statement of truth. Despite the circumstances, allies were few in the wake of Salwa Haydar’s death. Rather than face the full enormity of his decision to kill, there were many from his side of the family who sought to downplay Haydar Haydar’s actions. In the face of hostility, Amani Haydar (though admittedly vulnerable) forges a path toward healing through counselling, solidarity with her sisters and husband, motherhood, and significantly, art.

So much of what we consume about domestic abuse is delivered to use in bite-sized, sensationalised packages. The Mother Wound doesn’t purport to be a comprehensive text on the topic, but for anyone wishing to understand domestic abuse — its causes, its consequences, its intersections with culture, patriarchy and the law, and how life can progress for survivors — it’s essential.

If you or someone you know is experiencing or is at risk of domestic abuse, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit www.1800respect.org.au for more information. 

The Mother Wound is out now via Pan Macmillan.