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

Over here at MDPWeb headquarters, we’re pretty excited that three of our writers are eligible for Ditmars. Both Cecilia Jansink and Belinda Hamilton are eligible for the Best Fan Fiction Award and Amanda Wrangles and is Eligible for the William Atheling Jr Award for criticism of review. If you haven’t read their work then head over to the Burn Bright website and find them in the left hand column menu. You’ll have to agree they’ve offered consistent, quality material. Think about voting for them please!

Cels Jansink

Belinda Hamilton

Mandy Wrangles



Reviewed by Mandy Wrangles

Tanyana is special. Her career as an architect – a pionner – makes her one of the most highly regarded people in society.  By manipulating pions, the particles that hold all matter together through a blend of ritual and innate talent, Tanyana and her team are working on a giant construction; a prestigious statue named Grandeur in the city of Movac-Under-Keeper. And then something goes wrong. Tanyana is left injured, humiliated and without the ability to see or manipulate pions. She is cast into a world quite the opposite to what she knows – that of a lowly Debris collector.

Tanyana is denied justice at every turn. No one wants to know or listen to her; no one wants to be the one to help her find who – or what – caused her fall from grace. Her critical circle, the nine skilled binders who worked below and in harmony with Tanyana have abandoned her, and sinister undercurrents sweep and still her every movement.  Money ebbs from her bank account, the mysterious collection suit (and its creator) she finds is now part of her physical being is without explanation or an instruction booklet. Blank-faced ‘Puppet Men’ are watching, but no one can tell her why, or who they are. Not only is she is shunned by the society she once knew, she’s not exactly accepted with open arms by the debris crew she’s allocated to. Tanyana is alone, lost and powerless.

Debris collectors are the lowest of the low in the country of Varsnia, but without them, debris – the waste product left behind by pions – threatens to cause some serious damage. It’s when Tanyana finds her feet as a collector that this story really amped up for me. The relationships between the collection team are cautious and real, they trust each other but are innately suspicious of Tanyana – she represents everything they’re not. Each team member is drawn extremely well, and it’s easy to care about them very quickly, particularly the mystifying and childish Lad. The relationship Lad has with his brother Kichlan is an especially beautiful and intriguing bond; one that I’m looking forward to learning more about.

Debris is an exceptional novel. I have to admit, it’s taken me a long time since I finished reading to write this review. There are so many layers (yep,
just like an onion only tastier) I wasn’t sure where to begin. The physical aspect of Tanyana’s fall is the tip of the iceberg; Anderton’s observations of society and class system – and then the layers within that system – are written in a way that stays with you long after the story is finished. This is a story that sits somewhere in between fantasy and science fiction with a good dose of steampunk thrown in, but the themes covered and revelations about humanity are decidedly real. I’m a huge fan of a well-built world, and Debris ticks every box. The reader is treated intelligently, there are no over explanations to the workings of this world, just enough to keep you questioning and looking for the drip-fed answers while the action moves at a fast pace around you.

Debris is the first novel from Australian Jo Anderton, but not her first published work; she has a serious sackful of short fiction credits to her name. I for one will be sourcing those short stories to tide me over until the next instalment in The Veiled Worlds (Suited), is available later this year. I can’t wait to see what else Anderton’s  remarkable imagination has dreamed up.


Debris by Jo Anderton

Published by Angry Robot

Paperback – 408 pages

ISBN – 978-0-85766-153-1



davitt-award  aurealis-award   logo-curtin-university

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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