Book Review: Honour on Trial

So Hell froze over and I joined a book club. It's an open genre book club so I get to choose what I want to read, within the month's chosen genre. This is my first book review!

This month's genre is True Crime. I go through periods in my life when I have to stop watching the news and shows like Dexter for awhile because life is sad and horrible and scary, so I wasn't really looking forward to reading a book about crime. I deliberately tried to find a topic that didn't hit too close to home (selfishly, I like to sleep at night), and eventually stumbled across the subject of honour killings. I found an entire book on honour killings in the world (Murder in the Name of Honor: The True Story of One Woman's Heroic Fight Against an Unbelievable Crime by Rana Husseini), but then was reminded of the case the book I chose is based on. It seemed to fit, a true crime tale that didn't hit too close to home but that was still set in Canada and highlighted the unjust treatment of women. There are currently two books on this case - the other is Without Honour: The True Story of the Shafia Family and the Kingston Canal Murders, by Rob Tripp - it had more pictures but was double the length and I figured I should ease myself into this whole reading thing. In the end, I chose an interesting read for my first book club experience.

May 2013: True Crime

Honour on Trial
The Shafia Murders and the Culture of Honour Killings
By Paul Schliesmann
212 pages

"The apparent reason behind these cold blooded, shameful murders was that the four completely innocent victims offended your twisted notion of honour, a notion of honour founded upon the domination and control of women, a sick notion of honour that has no place in any civilized society."
The words of Justice Maranger before he sentenced the guilty (p. 188).

In the summer of 2009, a black car was pulled out of the Rideau Canal near Kingston, Ontario, the same day as the Shafia family reported four of their female family members missing. The car contained the bodies of three beautiful teenage sisters, Zainab, Sahar and Geeti Shafia, as well as their "aunt" Rona Amir Mohammad. The evidence, and family interviews didn't add up and in 2011 Afghan-Canadian millionaire Mohammad Shafia, his wife Tooba Mohammad Yahya and their oldest son Hamed Shafia were all found guilty of four counts of first degree murder of their daughters/sisters and "aunt".

I remember following the trial in the newspaper. I remember being shocked that four women could be the victims of honour killings here in Canada (the family were from Afghanistan, but lived in Montreal). We don't do that sort of thing here. Journalist Paul Schliesmann wrote about the case and trial in a local Kingston paper as it unfolded, and it's all put together in his new(ish) book.

Though it sometimes jumps around the timeline, this book does a great job of describing the family history leading up to the crime, the actual event (as much as is known), as well as the investigation and trial that followed. Even though I followed the trial in the courts and knew a bit about the case, I didn't know that the vast back story included allegations by the sisters of abuse in the home. I didn't know much about the reasons why the girls were killed since to me, their actions (including hanging out with boys) were normalish teenage girl shenanigans. I didn't know the twisted justifications given for honor killings by the men of that culture. I didn't know Rona was actually Mohammad's first wife, nor did I know her sad story. I didn't know there are three other teenaged children (who can't be named under a lifelong publication ban). And unfortunately, in a completely unsatisfying way, no one (except the accused) knows exactly why the girls didn't fight back or try to escape as the car sunk into the canal.

I found this book thoroughly interesting and finished it in one night. I couldn't stop reading it. The story is a bit like the Titanic - I knew the ending, but following the griping story from the beginning was chillingly fascinating. And sad. Very very sad. The book does provide some hope when it describes the legacy left by the crime and the new initiatives that have come out of how the case was handled. But still, what a waste. I guess it was a good book because two weeks after I finished it I'm still thinking about it.

There is not a lot of information in this book about honour killings in general, despite what the subtitle might lead you to believe. There is a short section on other such crimes in Canada - I suppose that could be read in the previously mentioned book. And it lacked photos and maps (which were more prominent in the other book on the case) but I made do with Google on occasion.

So all in all, I think I made a good choice to ease me into the whole book club concept. I hope next month's genre is happier though. Life is sad enough as it is.

Shafia family patriarch wields power from jail (Globe & Mail)
Honour killer Mohammed Shafia sells strip mall (CanCrime)
A year after Shafia convictions, fight to end family violence inches along (CBC News)