This harrowing memoir of domestic violence and sexual abuse is at once a confrontation with memory, an act of self-administered therapy and a brave encouragement to other survivors that they needn’t suffer in silence.
Asa Altea Ohman, writing as “Altea,” was victimized between the ages of five and 13 by a monstrous father who repeatedly beat and raped her in their northern Sweden home. In one particularly horrifying instance, he took advantage of his young daughter shortly after she’d opened her Christmas presents. At the same time, he was also beating his terrified wife, Gertrud, whose denial of reality takes on the contours of tragedy.
The author effectively employs two alternating narrators—the little girl (born in 1965) and the grown woman looking back in anger and dismay at the trauma of the child she once was. If her writing sometimes falters (“She overate so that she would be too gross for the size”), the power of her testimony more than compensates. A mid-book scene in which the older Altea floats near the bedroom ceiling, a helpless witness to the atrocity being inflicted below on her younger self, is a heartbreaking moment of double-vision. There’s more trouble, of course—the devastated girl’s deep depression, her brushes with suicide and alcoholism, her hospitalization, her blunt despair: “I am in pain, and I am the loneliest person in the world.”
Somehow, Altea has defeated the demons of her tormented past. A writer, language teacher and (her word) “healer,” she turns the 15-page epilogue of this brief, unforgettable memoir (the title refers to her favorite toy car) into a self-help primer for abuse victims, focusing mainly on personal strength, therapeutic strategies and forgiveness. If the psychobabble gets a bit thick in this last section, the writer has earned any tone of voice she chooses. She’s a survivor. Today, she writes, in a comment that will gratify readers, “I claim to be happier than most people.”
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