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Posted on 1 Mar 2022 in Non-Fiction |

AMANI HAYDAR The Mother Wound. Reviewed by Sanchana Venkatesh

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Last month Amani Haydar’s powerful memoir won the non-fiction prize at the 2022 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards.

When Amani Haydar was five months pregnant with her first child, she received the unimaginable news that her mother, Salwa Haydar, had been killed by her father. Her younger sister witnessed his frenzied attack and had been injured while trying to intervene. Following this, Amani found herself re-evaluating her parents’ relationship and whether she should have seen this coming.

While her parents had been unhappy for a long time, Amani didn’t think she had ever seen her father physically hurt her mother. What she remembered of their fights was raised voices, hearing her mum cry, and her dad putting her mum down verbally in various ways. Consequently, even after her mother’s attempt to separate from her father, when he continued to exert his control by moving into her new place, Amani did not imagine an outcome as horrific as this.

My parents were unhappy, but I’d never seen my dad hurt my mum. At least, I never thought I had.

As a trained lawyer herself, Amani realised the gaps in the justice system to address emotional abuse and coercive control as her father was taken to trial. Just because a person doesn’t leave physical scars on their partner, does it mean they are not abusive? Salwa Haydar had been shamed into wanting a divorce, wanting to separate from her husband. But it’s likely no one truly understood her fears.

We’re all good girls until we want our own thing.

Through her memoir, Amani also examines the added pressure of cultural expectations and the weight on her to be a ‘good’ daughter – and how this played out later in court. She explores the difficulty of maintaining her boundaries with an extended family who were trying to make excuses for her father, while at the same time grieving the loss of her mother, being heavily pregnant, and caring for her sisters. She describes her anger, the quiet fury she experienced, and her refusal to stay silent.

The only good victim is a helpless one.

The family suffered another loss when Amani’s maternal grandmother died in Lebanon from violence during the war. Unlike with her mother’s death, there was no trial, no funeral for her grandmother. Amani explores the impact of intergenerational trauma and the strength of her own mother in dealing with it. While trauma can pass down from one generation to the next, Amani reflects on how she has also learnt to be resilient from the strong women in her family.

Everything starts out small and grows bigger over time.

Except death. Death starts out huge but gets smaller. Grief shrinks over time.

Amani’s prose is captivating and despite the difficult content, her beautifully crafted words draw you in and take you on her journey. She manages to honour her mother’s life while also educating the reader about the law, the justice system, and coercive control. It is personal, heartfelt, and an urgent call to stand up against patriarchy. A talented artist, lawyer, and writer, it is to be hoped that this will not be her only book in the years to come.

Amani Haydar’s memoir is a must-read for anyone wanting to understand the horrors of violence against women and the toll it takes to fight for justice. It will hopefully will help other survivors of abuse feel validated. As Amani herself says:

At the core of storytelling is a desire to reconnect with the world and do so safely.

Amani Haydar The Mother Wound Pan Macmillan Australia 2021 PB 352pp $34.99

Sanchana Venkatesh is a writer and psychologist living on Cammeraygal land in Sydney’s lower north. You can find her on Instagram @sanchwrites and find more of her writing on

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