Reviewed by Timothy Niedermann
Trapped is a harrowing yet enlightening true story not just of abuse, but of the consequences of fear. Alexandra Karb is one of those people who find their lives altered forever by errors of judgement made when they were young. Karb’s error—errors really—has to do with the men she fell in love with. Like most women, she is attracted to good-looking, charming men who are fun to be around and are attentive to her needs. But in her case, once those men were in a relationship with her, they turned out to be volatile, controlling, and abusive.
Born in Germany and raised in Canada, Karb is working as a medical researcher in Germany when she meets Tareq, a handsome Jordanian of Palestinian descent. She already has a child, Irene, a product of an earlier unsuccessful relationship. Not really comfortable in Germany, she is planning to move back to Canada when she becomes pregnant again, this time by Tareq. Tareq also wants to move to Canada but refuses to accept Irene. Karb and Irene move back to Canada alone, but Tareq follows.
Eventually, Karb makes the difficult choice to have Irene raised by her parents (who have moved back to Germany) so that she can create a life with Tareq and their child. They marry, and soon there is another child. But Tareq’s behaviour is erratic. He can’t seem to keep a job and though he isn’t physically abusive, he frequently attacks Karb verbally and makes physical threats. Karb eventually has enough and separates from him, taking her two daughters, now ages two and four. But on a court-approved weekend visit, Tareq spirits the children off to Jordan. And here is where the story really begins.
Karb is caught in a bind. In Islamic countries, the father has control over the children. Tareq says that if she wants to see them again, she must come to live with him in Jordan. She decides to go. She manages to get the children back to Canada, but Tareq follows. Another court order gets her nowhere, so now Karb makes a surprising decision: she gets back together with Tareq.
At this point, the reader may ask: “Why did she do this?” “Wasn’t there something else she could have done?” And therein lies the power and pain of this book, because that’s the point: Karb felt she had no other choice to ensure the safety not just of herself, but especially of her daughters.
Karb’s prose is unadorned and very straightforward. She writes in plain terms what she sees and feels. The reader comes to accept that her decisions were based on her sincere fears of what Tareq was capable of. People who have never experienced abuse often cannot understand why the abused person simply doesn’t leave the abuser. What this book makes clear is that leaving isn’t that simple. Ever.
But Karb makes something else clear: the clash of cultures wasn’t the root of the problem with Tareq. It is often convenient to blame other “more primitive” societies for the behaviour of men like him, but as she found out, other societies have their own checks and balances. She paints a very nice, nuanced portrait of life in Jordan with Tareq and his many relatives, and she also shows very clearly that not all Arab societies are the same. Jordan, even the poor village where they lived, is far more progressive than wealthy Saudi Arabia with regard to women, for instance.
One is aware in advance that Karb manages to escape from this situation after over two decades of conflict and stress. And it is giving away nothing to reveal that she is diagnosed afterward with PTSD—post-traumatic stress disorder. The sad lesson is, of course, that the horrific damage domestic abuse inflicts on a person can endure long after the abuse has ended.
Domestic abuse is a stain on our society. Trapped is an important contribution toward a better understanding of the true depth of this issue.
Trapped is published by Guernica Editions.