The Other Half of You

Michael Mohammed Ahmad

The Other Half of You
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The Other Half of You

Michael Mohammed Ahmad

‘I only ever asked you for one thing,’ my father said, a quiver in his voice. ‘Just this one thing.’ It was as though I had smashed the Ten Commandments.

‘Oh father,’ I cried in Arabic, grovelling at his ankles while my mother and siblings looked on. ‘The one thing you ask of me - is everything.’

Bani Adam has known all his life what was expected of him. To marry the right kind of girl. To make the House of Adam proud.

But Bani wanted more than this - he wanted to make his own choices. Being the first in his Australian Muslim family to go to university, he could see a different way.

Years later, Bani will write his story to his son, Kahlil. Telling him of the choices that were made on his behalf and those that he made for himself. Of the hurt he caused and the heartache he carries. Of the mistakes he made and the lessons he learned.

In this moving and timely novel, Michael Mohammed Ahmad balances the complexities of modern love with the demands of family, tradition and faith. The Other Half of You is the powerful, insightful and unforgettable new novel from the Miles Franklin shortlisted author of The Lebs.

Review

Michael Mohammed Ahmad is a force. His appearance on the ABC’s Q&A in 2018 is burnt into my brain. Never before had I witnessed such a scorching critique of racism in Australia on TV. While host Tony Jones teed-up Ahmad with questions about Peter Dutton, it was Jones himself and guests John Marsden and Trent Dalton whom Ahmad took to task – with the help of Maxine Beneba Clarke – dismantling their complacency on issues of race one swift blow at a time. Jones had labelled Ahmad’s Miles Franklin shortlisted novel The Lebs ‘confronting.’ Ahmad agreed and proceeded to confront some more, and I cheered him along, astounded that someone like me seized their moment on live TV to cut so directly to the heart of the Australian soul.

The process of truth-telling in Australia hardly consists of easy jabs at bogeymen like Dutton – it is broader, deeper. In the genteel milieu of letters we must also confront our complicity and complacency. And so I wonder how readers will receive The Other Half of You, the third book in Ahmad’s loosely linked autobiographical coming-of-age trilogy focusing on Bani Adam, a young Lebanese-Australian Muslim man now in his early twenties in Western Sydney. Bani is like ‘us’, in that he reads. He also studied Arts at uni and is a dedicated amateur boxer. But he is also caught between the traditional expectations of his family and community, namely marriage to someone within his tribe, and the aspirations of someone with a tertiary education and a desire to write.

You could argue that The Other Half of You is not as confronting as The Lebs. Written as a letter to his son – in short to explain how I came to be with your mother, an Anglo Australian – it is an uncompromising look into the struggles of migrant Australia, and glows with the tenderness and introspection granted by this formal epistolary device. It is a fundamentally generous book that deserves to be read carefully. Ahmad’s is a crucial voice.


Ender Başkan works as a bookseller at Readings Carlton.

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