Honour lost, indeed
August 5, 2004 7:08 AM   Subscribe

Forbidden Love: The Romance That Masqueraded as a Bio In early 2003, a Jordanian woman named Norma Khouri published a book entitled Forbidden Love (or Honor Lost in North America). This book was a memoir about how Norma Khouri's best friend, Dalia, was killed by her own father after she fell in love with a Christian military officer, and Norma's subsequent escape from Jordan. Forbidden Love was a bio that read like a sensational romance, and it sold 250,000 copies around the world and made Norma Khouri a celebrity in her adoptive country of Australia. However, it turns out that the book really was just a romance. Dalia never existed. Norma Khouri left Jordan at the age of 3 and grew to adulthood living in Chicago. So, one very disturbed woman has exploited Western prejudices about Arab cultures, fooled the general public, plunged her publisher into an enormous legal and financial embarrassment, and impugned the very real and serious problem of honour killings. And she got away with it for a full year and a half.
posted by orange swan (14 comments total)
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posted by orange swan at 7:10 AM on August 5, 2004

What's the crime here? That she didn't call it fiction?

I can understand the real life woman being upset though.
posted by agregoli at 7:18 AM on August 5, 2004

What's the crime here? That she didn't call it fiction?

Yup: fraud and misrepresentation for personal gain. That's a crime isn't it?
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 7:23 AM on August 5, 2004

Isn't this the same issue we debated a couple weeks ago in a different context, that labels on books (fiction/non-fiction) are more guide than absolute these days and that one has to read things critically and skeptically? This seems like much ado about nothing to me, really. Did the story change from 2003 to today? Is the context really that essential the story?
posted by rushmc at 7:42 AM on August 5, 2004

"I am truly offended by your request to label Forbidden Love as fiction"

"Forbidden Love is not fiction. Is it not enough that her father received nothing more than a slap on the wrist for her murder ... now you wish me to say that she never existed in the first place ... and for what ... the 'image of Jordan'. I am angered to see that you are more concerned for the 'image of Jordan' than for the many innocent victims of honour killings each year in your country

It was totally crazy. She accused us of only defending Jordan's reputation, when we had to defend the reputation of Jordanian women against what she wrote. She ruined the reputation of Jordanian women, saying they were imprisoned in their homes and so on. Jordanian women have excellent education levels that are gradually being translated into participation in the workforce. Her tone is that all Jordanian women live under these traditional practices, which is wrong.

/Feeling kind today, I'll file it under nutjob. Make it "opportunistic" nutjob.
posted by magullo at 8:05 AM on August 5, 2004

Yup: fraud and misrepresentation for personal gain. That's a crime isn't it?

- how ironic as we sit in the maelstrom of a presidential election. On the topic of honour killings, I seem to recall several police investigations into murders that have occured within the muslim community being re-opened, due to suspicions that some may have been honour killings.
posted by johnnyboy at 8:48 AM on August 5, 2004

Our PBS station did an interview with her last year.
posted by of strange foe at 11:31 AM on August 5, 2004

Australia seems prone to this for some reason. There was Helen Demidenko who claimed to be the child of a Ukrainian taxi driver and wrote a memoir of his life in the Ukraine that was totally fabricated. There was Ern Malley, the poet who never was.

And then there's the Holocaust "memoirs" of Binjamin Wilkomirski, who turned out to be the Swiss Bruno Grosjean.

rushmc, I think there's a whole other issue here: why people fake traumatic pasts they didn't have. Is it the sympathy? The money? The attention? I'm not interested in truth in this case so much as motivation.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 2:40 PM on August 5, 2004

I think "money and attention" cover most people's actions these days, i_am.
posted by rushmc at 3:13 PM on August 5, 2004

why people fake traumatic pasts they didn't have.

This sort of fake confessional autobiography has been around since...well, probably since autobiography has been around. The most famous nineteenth-century examples, most of them anti-Catholic, include "Maria Monk"'s Awful Disclosures..., Rebecca Reed's Six Months in a Convent, and Charles Chiniquy's Fifty Years in the Church of Rome. These books combine personal claims for authority, sensationalism and faux "documentation" with a very shrewd grasp of the target audience's willingness to believe anything nasty about Roman Catholics. (Both Maria Monk and Chiniquy are still kicking around. So is the Jewish convert narrative Leila Ada, even though we know from his Royal Literary Fund file that Osborn W. Trenery Heighway had invented an "authentic" memoir before.) It's a market-driven genre.
posted by thomas j wise at 3:44 PM on August 5, 2004 [1 favorite]

If you read the articles I linked to, rush, you'll see that Khouri, Demidenko and Grosjean all share certain traits: unstable upbringing, long previous history of difficulties in life, etc. Helen Darville/Demidenko, it turns out, is a antisemite with a history of passing herself off as variously Czech, Hungarian, Ukranian long before she wrote her novel. Grosjean was "the child of a troubled, illegitimate affair, the young boy spent years bouncing from orphanages to cruel and neglectful foster homes before landing with adoptive parents". So there is more to it than sheer mercenary instinct.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 5:09 PM on August 5, 2004

Maybe Martha Stewart will invite her over to hang out during her house arrest.
posted by Kwantsar at 2:32 AM on August 6, 2004

A lurker named John Horner has emailed me with another piece of information:

"Her book has been submitted as *evidence* in hearings of the Australian Immigration department; the honour killing situation described in it submitted as proof that women from certain countries are in danger of their lives, and therefore, entitled to refugee status."
posted by orange swan at 9:21 AM on August 6, 2004

Well, to be fair Orange Swan, honor killing is a problem in a lot of the Arabic world. And I say this as someone who is fairly familiar with the culture.

Jordan, from what I understand, is significantly better than many countries. Iraq, Iran, Saudi, and a couple of the 'stans all have problems with honor killings. Some countries like Lebanon and Syria have virtually no honor killings. I think a lot depends on how secular the country is.

My point is that while this book is fiction, the situations described in it, are not. Many women do need refugee status. This book being fiction cannot be used as tool to prevent women being hunted from getting away from their hunters.
posted by dejah420 at 10:43 AM on August 6, 2004

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