Thank you Tara Mitchell for your insightful questions and for featuring me in the Writers Victoria Q&A. Read here.
Full review online here.
Things Nobody Knows But Me opens with Amra Pajalić learning, at age 16, that her mother’s illness is in fact bipolar disorder, and proceeds to build back to this moment. Through interlinked vignettes, she presents complex portraits of maternal grandmother Adevija, mother Fatima and her child self, and examines the fractured relationships between all three. The episodic structure compartmentalises key events, supporting Pajalić to juggle multiple perspectives effectively, while also providing much-needed emotional respite. As she pieces together her family’s past from their accounts – Adevija’s marriage is the result of blackmail and Fatima’s is arranged – the author experiences, and demonstrates, the power of storytelling.
Mental illness continues to be stigmatised within many migrant communities, its causes and treatment misunderstood. Pajalić recalls the family friends who stepped up to care for her and her brother, as well as the judgement her mother faced, likening Fatima’s experience to being “exiled again”. The family’s relocation, from St Albans in Melbourne’s west to Bosanska Gradiška and back, offers a rare glimpse into rural life and prejudices in 1980s Bosnia, before the war that would break up Yugoslavia.
Amid the chaos, Pajalić remains alert to beauty and humour. “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single woman with a mental illness must be in want of a husband,” she quips, “to facilitate her escape from familial domination.” Forced to fend for herself from a young age, Pajalić is alert, too, to the living situations of her playmates, some of whom are abused by their guardians. This empathy, together with Pajalić’s knack for writing unruly young characters, suggests the memoir will resonate with teens as well as adults.
The outcome of Fatima’s correct diagnosis is ultimately condensed into a paragraph, life-changing but an afternote. Given the memoir’s emphasis on relationships, this decision is understandable; it does, however, make for an abrupt conclusion.
Pajalić has spent her life protecting her mother, while also bearing witness to her strength. Fatima, like so many women, has wrestled for control of her fate, making innumerable sacrifices for her children. Bipolar disorder has shaped their lives, but as Pajalić defiantly makes clear, it defines neither her mother nor their relationship.
Transit Lounge, 272pp, $29.99
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 18, 2019 as "Amra Pajalić, Things Nobody Knows But Me". Subscribe here.
Had the privilege of being interviewed on 3CR Community Radio Published or Not segment by David McClean about my book. I loved his introduction: “dislocation, dysfunction and depression--these are terms we don’t usually like to associate with a child’s upbringing but Amra Pajalic fathoms the forces that shaped her life in her autobiography Things Nobody Knows But Me.”
You can listen online on this link from 11.55 minutes to hear my interview. My voice is not usually this raspy! I’m still in recovery from a virus. In the first half is Wayne Marshall, an emerging writer, who has a short story collection being published next year.
Things Nobody Knows But Me is featured in the Readings Mother's Day Catalogue. So this means it would make a good gift for your mother for this weekend. Mmm, something to think about. #transitloungepublishing #thingsnobodyknowsbutme #memoir #bipolare
Very excited to be featured on the Booklovers Review website to share the inspiration behind my new book Things Nobody Knows But Me.
Today is publication day and my book baby is out into the world. It's been a long time coming and I'm so excited. Thank you Jodi Wiley and Lucy Honan for spotting my memoir Things Nobody Knows But Me at Readings in State Library of Victoria and sending me a photo.
Today marks a big milestone in my parenting life. My ten-year-old daughter and I went to the shopping centre for lunch and to run some errands. As we were leaving we went to buy bubble tea and then we were going to buy a hamburger to take home to my husband. We arrived at Cha Time to find a huge line that would take at least 15 minutes to power through. Then we would have to face the same wait for a hamburger. So I made an executive decision. I gave her money and told her that I would leave her to order and wait while I went to get a hamburger. I knew she would have no issues with this task as I’d been getting her to order things and pay as much as possible for me.
I turned around and walked off to buy the hamburger, rationalising in my head leaving her. She was in a foodcourt. There were lots of people around. All she had to do was wait in line and buy. Everything would be fine. Fifteen minutes later I returned to find that it had all gone to plan and she was waiting for our drinks. As we pierced the straws through the plastic top and walked off I asked her how did she feel. “I don’t feel any different to how I did fifteen minutes ago,” she said with a deadpan face. But I knew she lied. Something had changed. This was another moment when she was taking a step away from into the big world. She was transitioning from childhood to adolescence. I feel so happy and sad about this moment. It’s such a relief that she has independence and yet it is another marker of how our lives are changing.
And this makes me think about other milestones I’m experiencing at the moment. In my writing life there is transition and change. On my current manuscript I have finally hit that magic 50,000 mark where my novel goes from being a kind-of-a-novel to an actual book with characters and a world that feel more real to me than my own, sometimes. It feels magical to be writing and seeing it all come together. I’ve been sick for a week and was completely burnt out and unable to think creatively. It left me with a gaping void, an emptiness that could only be filled by filling the creative well and immersing myself back into my writing life.
I’m so grateful to have this work-in-progress to keep me centred as I await the release of my memoir, Things Nobody Knows But Me, out into the world. It feels like the term pregnant pause was invented for this time. I am participating in publicity and interviews behind the scenes, things are ticking over, but there is nothing to show for it yet. It feels excruciating and exciting all at the same time.
I keep thinking about the launch on the 25 May and yet I struggle to focus on it. I know there are things I should do to prepare, and yet I also struggle to focus my mind on them. It seems so strange that I spent so many years creating this book and now that it’s being let out into the world I’m conflicted about it. It reminds me of sending my daughter to school: will she be liked, will people be kind to her, those are the same thoughts and feelings I have about my memoir.
But I will forge and while I’m waiting and enduring I’ll be grateful that I can come back to my character Samira in war-torn Srebrenica in 1993 who just helped a wounded woman to hospital, only to find out that there is not enough medicine to save her. The good thing about being a writer I am never lonely or alone. Instead I always have the voices of my characters with me.
Transit Lounge and Sun Bookshop are pleased to invite you to the launch of Things That Nobody Knows But Me to be launched by Alice Pung, Saturday 25 May, 3 pm. This event will be held at the Masonic Hall, corner of Willis and Canterbury Street, Yarraville.
RSVP firstname.lastname@example.org or www.sunbookshop.com
#bookstagram #booklaunch #authorsofinstagram #memoir #bipolar #mentalhealth
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My first review of my memoir on ArtsHub and I'm crying. I'm so, so happy. Sending this book out into the world is probably going to be the hardest thing I've ever done, after writing it. This review is soothing my anxiety just a little.
Amra Pajalić's Things Nobody Knows About Me.
Amra Pajalić has written this memoir in the style of a novel. She makes frequent use of dialogue and describes in detail how people thought and felt. She avers that ‘while every event depicted in this book did occur, I have used fictional devices to recreate dialogue and setting. . . . I have also compressed timelines slightly in order to create narrative flow.’ That this memoir has been partially fictionalised, however, does not detract from its sincerity or frankness.
Pajalić recounts her childhood exploits and relationships with no holds barred. This includes her sexual experiences, conveyed as fully as the other events that shape her life. That sexual abuse occurred then, as now, is hardly a surprise. A friend tells the teenage Pajalić, ‘My uncle comes and plays with me while Mum is at work. He takes off our pants and we do stuff.’ This is the same friend who shows her how to steal chocolate bars.
Pajalić spent many years of her childhood in Bosnia, being brought up by her grandparents, who held old-fashioned rules about how a young girl should behave. They cared for her in their own way, even if that included instances of painful physical punishment. Breakfast was ready for her and everyone in the household when they rose because her grandmother would start her long day by getting up at five in the morning to milk the cows, collect the eggs and prepare food.
However, most of Pajalić’s youth was spent in Australia, and in the part-time care of her mother, Fatima. Many of Pajalić’s recollections feature her mother with whom she had a strange and difficult relationship, overwhelmingly because, unknown to her, Fatima was afflicted with bipolar disorder. Fatima’s illness was mis-diagnosed for many years which resulted in her being frequently in and out of hospital, and in being subjected to incorrect and damaging mistreatment. When she was not ill, Fatima was a loving parent, although at times her desire for a suitable partner got in the way of her other relationships.
There are many reasons that can motivate a person to write a memoir. It could be to record past friends and family, it could be to set the record straight on events in which they played a role, it could be for self-aggrandisement or to emphasise a point of view. Pajalić’s motivation to write her memoir is clear from her dedication of Things Nobody Knows But Me:
'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.'
Pajalić has succeeded in making her point with this memoir. Because of the strong women in her past, who did the best for her in difficult situations, she was able to make good choices for her career and marriage and is confident that her daughter will have even better prospects than she had.
Rating: 4 stars ★★★★
Things Nobody Knows But Me
By Amra Pajalić
Transit Lounge Publishing
Format: ISBN :978-1-925760-20-0 Trade PB 272pp
Release / Publication Date: 01 /05 /2019
Categories: Forthcoming, Non-Fiction
I am an author, reader and teacher. My memoir Things Nobody Knows But Me about being parented by a Bi Polar mother from a Non-English Speaking Background was published by Transit Lounge in 2019. Read more about it here.
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