26 September 2023

Things Nobody Knows But Me

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Reviewed by Rama Gaind.

By Amra Pajalić, Transit Lounge, $29.99.

This is a courageous memoir. It opens with Pajalić learning that her mother suffers from bipolar disorder. The story is then built-up to this stage with the help of entwined reflective pieces that presents intricate depictions of her mother, Fatima, maternal grandmother, Adevija, and herself as a child. It scrutinises the splintered connections between all three.

Amra was four years old when she realised that her mother was different. Fatima was loving, but sometimes heard strange voices that told her to do bizarre things. When she frequently went into hospital, Amra and her brother were passed around to family friends and foster homes. For a little while, they also lived with their grandparents in Bosnia.

At 16, Amra ends up in the school counsellor’s office for wagging school. She becomes her mother’s confidante and learns the extraordinary story of her life: when she was 15 years old Fatima visited family friends only to find herself in an arranged marriage. A year later she was a migrant, a mother and a mental patient.

A sensitive portrait of family and migration, it’s well told. It captures a wonderful sense of bicultural place and life as it weaves between St Albans in suburban Australia and Bosanska Gradiška in Bosnia.

It’s an upsetting story, though empathetic, burningly candid and surprisingly humourous, at times. Amra’s reason for writing is obvious when she says:

“Dedicated to my mother, Fatima, and all the women who came before me whose lives were full of sacrifice, so that mine would be full of choices. And for my daughter, Sofia, who stands on the shoulders of these strong women and is able to reach for the sky because of them.” She had made good choices because of the strong influences in her life as she was growing up.

What is the name of Amra’s mother? If your answer is correct, you could win one of three copies of Things Nobody Knows But Me. Entries should be sent to [email protected] by Monday, 21 October 2019. Names of the winners will be announced in Frank Cassidy’s PS-sssst…! column on 22 October 2019.

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