Reviewed by Timothy Niedermann
Fuse Author Hollay Ghadery is the daughter of an Iranian father and a Canadian mother of English descent. Her original intent for this book was to discuss the issue of body image in biracial women such as herself, along with the eating disorders that go along with them. She would use her own experiences to make her points, but otherwise keep a distanced, linear narrative that was tightly focused on her subject. As her foreword makes clear, however, this proved impossible. One issue spilled over into another. Discussions of racial identity and female body image began cascading down to problems with mental health, bulimia, substance abuse, self-mutilation, and more.
What evolved was a series of long vignettes about her life challenges as a child, youth, and adult in Canada. There were pressures from both inside and outside the family: she was supposed to keep Iranian and Muslim traditions while trying to fit in with western social norms. As a result, she never knew where she belonged. Physically, her dark skin and prominent nose made her feel ugly.
From an early age, Ghadery displayed signs of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), which continued into adulthood. She was self-conscious about her weight in school, and as a teenager became bulimic, binging on food then vomiting it all up, which again continued to plague when she was older. She relied on alcohol, drugs, promiscuity, and even obsessive exercise to try to fill her voids. Nothing really worked
Throughout the book, Ghadery describes both the incidences of struggle and her state of mind during each period of her life: the self-doubt, unhappiness, and determination to do things her own way. While she repeatedly says she loves her family, including her parents, it is clear that those two contributed significantly to Ghadery’s difficulties—her mother through some inherited behaviours (notably abuse of alcohol), and her father through his cultural rigidity on matters of appearance and proper behaviour. All this made her feel trapped. Independence from her family was something that Ghadery knew she needed, so for university, and against the wishes of her father in particular, she chose Queens, three hours away.
So, far from being a dispassionate investigation, the narrative became a series of windows into Ghadery’s own personal struggles with these conditions. The effect is informative and often moving. The lack of linearity in the narrative has the effect of immersing the reader more into what she is going through, without the sense that there will be inevitable improvement or change. One feels just the immediacy of the moment. This sometimes leads to a lack of chronological clarity, but in the main it intensifies the reader’s experience.
The title is allusive. At one point she shows her therapist how the edges of a hastily sutured scar from an episode of self-mutilation try to fuse back together, as if trying to assimilate without leaving a trace. That is Ghadery—a damaged piece of flesh trying desperately to heal and fit in, though the scar will remain, however faint.
Fuse is published by Guernica Editions.