Arts Books By The Book literature Review

★★★☆☆ Book Review: The Years of Forgetting by Sofia Abdullah

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It takes many moons before one can finally move on.

There’s an article I was reading the other day about how a woman who was sexually abused as a child continued to carry this intense trauma inside her into her adulthood. Triggered by seeing her abuser lead a relatively happy life, with no visible guilt, that trauma manifested as an intense desire to kill not just herself, but her entire family along with her, thanks to her seemingly irreparable pain.

It’s no question that the scars of childhood sexual abuse run deep. But for author Sofia Abdullah, who went through a similar incident in her childhood, somehow, she found the strength over the years to claw her way back to a relatively normal life, even learning to forgive her abuser and move on from it, becoming an international women’s and children’s rights champion.

How she does that is detailed in her memoir The Years of Forgetting, chronicling her adult life and how she learnt to come to terms with her years of abuse at the hands of her own paternal grandfather. Like most memories, the ones in The Years of Forgetting are often like some kind of foggy dream of the past, half-remembered with the occasional vivid, graphic detail that recurs again and again – an errant hand, a cry of fear, and the lingering feelings of self-blame.

As an anecdotal piece of writing, the experience speaks for itself, and one almost feels the sense of numbness in Sofia as she recalls the past almost objectively, at times almost like she is viewing herself from an out of body experience. It’s a haunting read, particularly as she describes the multiple side-effects and damage the trauma wreaks on her mind and body. From self-punishment via anorexia to her emotional unavailability, to the blame she places on her mother, who she swears must have seen glimpses of her grandfather performing the acts on her, but did nothing.

Thankfully, The Years Of Forgetting isn’t simply about the pain experienced, but the healing process that follows. For Sofia, the solution is quite simply, time. Each part of the book is titled according to phases of the moon, almost as if suggesting that trauma itself is a cycle – it comes in waves, and recedes in a similar way, hitting again when you least expect it. But as the memoir progresses, so does Sofia in her ability to forgive, at one point even taking it upon herself to believe her grandfather’s ‘genuine’ feelings of remorse before he dies. As much as she chooses not to delve too deep into the methods she uses, it is the end result that matters; all you have to do is learn to forgive yourself, and the rest will follow.

It is this piece of advice that gives rise to the book’s core theme of ending self-blame and using that as a starting point to regain trust in one’s self and drawing strength from that newfound stability of identity. More than just an account of trauma, The Years of Forgetting is also one of hope, where despite embarking on the road to recovery alone, given enough time and the right methodology, a victim can learn to shed the pain of abuse to give way to becoming a survivor, a message of resilience anyone who’s been through trauma can stand to learn from.

Recommended for: Readers looking for an honest account of living with the complicated fallout and trauma after abuse. 

The Years of Forgetting is published by Epigram and available here

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