In her debut memoir, Bella divulges the decades of sexual abuse she endured at the hands of her father.
The author’s account opens with two letters: one to him, who she hopes will “feel pain greater than what I had to go through” when faced with God’s judgment; the other to her daughter, who gives her “something to live for.” As the narrative reveals, it’s taken Bella years to reach that point. She grew up in a small Bosnian village where her wealthy father was a widely respected builder. From a young age, however, Bella recognized her father’s womanizing and abusive ways. Yet these glimpses did not prepare her for the moment, at age 6, when her father first proposed a secret game of touching one another’s genitals. Soon, kissing, fondling, and performing oral sex became almost-daily occurrences. Though she found solace in activities like singing and studying the Bible, Bella also contended with a mother who blamed her for what was happening and a belief––inspired by her father’s threats––that permitting this sexual abuse would protect her younger sisters from the same fate. Her secret relationship with her father––whom she refers to as Bozo––was far from the only hardship she encountered. Her body remained traumatized, leaving her without a period until age 19; her attempts at healthy relationships either led her to more abusive men or to kind ones she could not trust; and her family remained in war-torn Bosnia until her hand was struck with a stray bullet. Bella’s unflinching litany of torments may be too overwhelming for some readers. Her tone rarely wavers from solemnity, but her commitment to honesty also yields some of the harrowing book’s most shocking, memorable moments, such as her wedding to her first husband: “I had black-and-white outfit to match my black eye that I got the night before.” The relentless bleakness of her writing also makes her sentimental passages––that survivors, for example, are never alone since “God is with you”––feel earned and never like platitudes.
A troubling, fiercely brave account of one woman’s survival.