Magazine article Metro Magazine

Stranger Than Non-Fiction: The Slippery Truth in Forbidden Lie$: Forbidden Lie$ (2007)Is a Breathtakingly Audacious Documentary Film by Australian Director Anna Broinowski about Norma Khouri, the Now Discredited Author of Forbidden Love

Magazine article Metro Magazine

Stranger Than Non-Fiction: The Slippery Truth in Forbidden Lie$: Forbidden Lie$ (2007)Is a Breathtakingly Audacious Documentary Film by Australian Director Anna Broinowski about Norma Khouri, the Now Discredited Author of Forbidden Love

Article excerpt

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IN her attempts to discover the truth behind Norma Khouri's 2003 book, Anna Broinowski--writer, director and co-producer of Forbidden Lies--peels back the layers of lies and half-truths to reveal the extraordinary deceit perpetrated by Khouri. In doing this, she unmasks Khouri as a skilled con woman. But however grubby, deceitful, irresponsible and selfish Khouri is shown to be, she is the unlikely star of the film.

Set in Jordan, Forbidden Love (published as Honour Lost in the USA) purported to tell the 'true story' of Khouri's best friend, Dalia, murdered by her own Jordanian family in an 'honour killing' after they discovered her covert romance with a Christian man. The book sold more than 200,000 copies in Australia alone before it was pulled by its publishers Random House and Simon and Schuster in 2004 after Sydney Morning Herald journalist Malcolm Knox presented the results of his investigation into the truth of Khouri's claims. Knox exposed Khouri's non-fiction book as a fake when it became clear that this was not a piece of non-fiction under any accepted meaning of that word.

Looking for lies

Forbidden Lies is not just a documentary about Khouri, but one where the filmmaker becomes enmeshed in the story and the worlds (and there are several) of the central character. It is also about the publishers who accepted Khouri's 'true story'. Khouri presented herself as the champion of oppressed women in Arab societies: the author with a heart of gold and a story that was translated into sixteen languages, selling more than 500,000 copies worldwide.

The remarkable sales of Forbidden Love had a lot to do with its presentation as a 'true story' and with the political climate in the West where many people were keen to confirm their prejudices about the primitive cruelties practiced in the Arab world. The book, whether partly true or not, is badly written and the dull, leaden prose is matched only by that of Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code (published in 2003). It never rises above a kind of chaste Mills & Boon style of simple 'then we did this' narrative interspersed with a mess of half-truths about life in Jordan. Here is one of many examples of the breathless Girl's Own prose.

After lunch we ran upstairs to pick out the perfect outfit for Dalia's evening. After hours of dressing up we decided on a long, cotton, summer dress printed with wild flowers and crimson roses that made her look magical. I could never envy her beauty, only admire it, because she made everyone around her feel beautiful ... Time flew as we chatted about the approaching evening and, before we knew it, it was time to go.

When Broinowski suggests to Khouri that 'the book is very American', Khouri says, 'That's the editing.' Khouri is shown at various literary festivals where audiences are charmed by the author and enthralled by this story of forbidden love. Here was a self-styled 'Jordanian virgin' standing up for the powerless and oppressed women of the East.

Rana Husseini, Jordanian activist against honour crimes, claims there are seventy-three factual errors in Forbidden Love, some less important than others, but adding up to a pretty shoddy regard for the truth. One of many disputed assertions in the book, for example, is this one:

Life in Dalia's home was basically like life in all Muslim homes in Amman, regardless of class, money or neighbourhood. She wasn't permitted to eat at the same table with, or at the same time as, the men in her household.

Shaping Forbidden Lies

Broinowski's film is as good a piece of filmmaking as the book is bad. It has many of the qualities of a psychological thriller and despite running for 108 minutes, the story moves along at a cracking pace through several countries, including Australia, Jordan, the United States and England. Khouri was a willing participant in the making of the documentary, perhaps addicted to fame, believing some attention to be better than none at all; or maybe she just wanted a chance 'to tell her story', believing that in the age of spin any publicity is better than none at all. …

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