Review: Not Like My Mother by Azra Alagic

Mandy Wrangles reviews a very special book.

Not Like My Mother is the debut novel from Australian author, Azra Alagic, and begins with a quote from Gregory David Roberts: “…the choices you make between hating and forgiving, can become the story of your life.”

Alagic’s story is one of a family; in particular, its women. Set in the Balkans, it begins with the arranged marriage of fourteen year old Samira to Aziz in the wake of the German invasion and massacre of Bosniaks in the Balkans. A bitter, angry and often violent man, Aziz has never recovered from the mental torture of being forced to fight and kill in a war he didn’t choose. Aziz is a product of both his generation and his experiences, and as a result, his young wife and family pay the price for this emotional turmoil.

Muhammed, Samira and Aziz’s oldest child is often the subject of his father’s brutal beatings. At just twelve years old, Muhammed leaves home at the urging of his mother, as the only way to save his life.

The story picks up many years later, when Muhammed joins Anika and her family as they flee communist Yugoslavia. Together, they hope for a better life on the other side of the world – Australia. But Anika finds oppression of another kind: racism and marriage. Not only is it almost impossible for her to make friends and find her place within her new culture, but Muhammed has carried with him the demons of his upbringing, and she must now survive his often ferocious temper and beatings.

Anika and Muhammed’s daughter, Yasna is the final voice in this story. It’s up to her to break the cycle of abuse and find her way, while not forgetting her heritage, traditions and the family they left behind.

Alagic has captured her culture in a beautifully graphic way, both the good and the bad. Each of the women who tell this story made forward strides; they changed their own world one tiny increment at a time, even when it felt like all was lost. They may not have realised it at the time, but their choices impacted following generations in both positive and negative ways. No character in Not Like My Mother is pure. They have many faults, but within these flaws Alagic has found a way for us to understand that even when someone is behaving at their worst, there is still room for empathy and redemption.

Not Like My Mother was a tough book to review – in fact, I needed to let it percolate in my mind as to how it made me feel for almost a fortnight since I finished reading. Described as creative nonfiction, (that is, a fictionalised account of history) it’s a book that captivated me and was read over two very emotional days. It is often graphic, the violence and bloodshed isn’t brushed aside or left off-page. It’s there, where it needs to be, but at no time is it gratuitous.

In many ways, this is a story of forgotten, dismissed and often destroyed dreams; replaced by the sad reality of circumstance and violence. But it’s also a story of hope, determination and love. Alagic shows us the inner turmoil of all her characters with finesse – we’re given a rare insight into the tragic and permanent (both physical and emotional) scarring war brings upon its people, many years and a move across the world later.

I spent much of this book thanking the universe for my own upbringing. It’s set in a world so far removed from mine, that instead of creative nonfiction, it may as well have been a dark, dystopian fantasy. But it’s not. Not Like My Mother is our history, it’s about the people who made our society what it is today. It’s about the way our own individual history, culture and religious beliefs are always lurking there, deep in our minds and hearts, no matter how hard we try to escape.

The sequel to Not Like My Mother, The Comfort Women, is currently in progress. I’ll be reading it as soon as it’s released. This story has a long way to go; there are still life lessons to be learned, loves to be had and pain to be endured. I have a feeling I will be reading about strong women triumphing over their pasts and the hands they are dealt. But most of all, I think I’ll continue to be reading the stories of women who learn to forgive – for their own sakes.

Azra Alagic’s website 

Not Like My Mother by Azra Alagic.

eBook for iBooks version (Purchase Now)

ISBN – 978-0-9872915-1-6


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Peacemaker - Aurealis Award
Best Science Fiction Novel 2014

Curtin University Distinguished Alumni Award 2014

Transformation Space - Aurealis Award
 Best Science Fiction Novel 2010

Sharp Shooter - Davitt Award
Best Crime Novel 2009 (Sisters in Crime Australia) 





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