You may recall I love a good scandalous literary hoax, and there are none better than that of Norma Khouri, the Jordanian exile who wrote such a devastating story of her best friend’s death at the hands of her family, in Forbidden Love – and exposed the truth about honour killings to millions of readers around the world.
Or not, as the case may be.
Khouri may well be one of the more spectacular literary con artists of all time: not merely confused, or making a literary point, or psychopathic, or in a bit deep. This is someone who seems to have perpetrated yet another in a series of deceptions – the unkind, such as the FBI and the Chicago police force, may call it fraud – and writing a book about something that never happened is perhaps less of a crime than ripping off old women with dementia who now have no life savings or anywhere to live.
Last week, I saw Anna Broinowski’s documentary, Forbidden Lie$. It is, like its subject, aggravating, flowery, declamatory and many-layered; and that’s not a criticism of the film-maker. Khouri is eel-like in both her slipperiness and opaque expression, though pathetically transparent in certain moments. Lies upon lies upon lies.
Like Helen Demidenko/Darville (who at least never claimed to be writing “faction” in The Hand that Signed the Paper), she not only deceives readers, publishers, media (and in Demidenko’s case, award judges) but also betrays and undermines the efforts of people coming to terms with extremely difficult issues in their own lives and in their communities; be it Holocaust survivors, or women struggling to find identities in the modern Arab world, or those affected by so-called honour killings in any society.
I can’t believe Broinowski refrained from slapping Khouri hard during one of their ridiculous traipses around Amman. The woman sitting behind me in the cinema was so engrossed she heckled, and I can’t say I blame her.
Although the film does go on a bit long, that’s understandable, because it takes the film-maker, and the authorities, and the con artist’s victims, and consequently the audience a while to really get our heads around the depths of deception and layers of lies.
Exhausting, exasperating, and necessary.
You can watch a trailer here.