BOOK REVIEW: My Father The Murderer is a troubling rumination on the effects and aftershocks of domestic violence, writes our new Crime Culture editor Irfan Yusuf.
I was really troubled by this book. Not in a bad way. You see, I’ve spent much of my professional career representing both victims and perpetrators of domestic violence in QLD, NSW, VIC and WA. Most of my clients have been women trying to keep estranged husbands and partners away. Once I had obtained the relevant orders and/or compensation, my job was largely done.
But what goes on behind the scenes is usually too much to fit on a court summons. Too often the dynamics of domestic violence and its impacts on the victims (including children) remain hidden. What makes this book so special is that it gives voice not only to the victim but also to her daughter and even to the perpetrator.
Believe it or not, many DV victims don’t hate their abusers. Especially when both spent time bringing up a child together. The child in this story grew up to be journalist Nina Young. Her mother, Denise Young, met and fell in love with an inmate named Allan Ladd at a prison in Fremantle WA. Denise found Allan charming, the epitome of a reformed prisoner who’d experienced hardship and was determined to turn his life around.
Denise and Allan married. Some two years after Nina was born, in 1986, Denise fled 4000 kilometres with Nina to Sydney after being repeatedly and violently assaulted by Allan. Denise writes: “Although intellectually it was the right thing to leave when we did and the way we did … I still missed him.”
It’s often hard for men (whether fathers or brothers or friends) supporting women in domestic violence situations to understand why so often women return to an abusive partner. It isn’t as easy as thinking ‘why would you want to go back to him after all he did to you?’
Denise writes: “I can understand why women do return to their abusers when they beg for forgiveness, when they cry and assure them it will never happen again. I almost joined them.” Settled in Sydney, Denise kept in touch with Allan with a view to ensuring her daughter Nina had some possible contact with her biological father.
Side by side with her mother’s story, Nina writes of her own responses to investigating her estranged father’s violent past. She had previously produced a podcast sharing the book’s title. The book represents Nina’s reconciliation with the impact of her mother’s decisions on making (and potentially breaking) her life.
‘My Father The Murderer’ by Nina & Denise Young. Viking, 264pp. Penguin Books.
Feature Photo of Nina Young by Andrew Gonzalez