Courageous memoir examines rape trauma

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November 6, 2014

One Hour in Paris:  A True Story of Rape and Recovery

By Karyn Freedman

Freehand Books, 195 pages, $21.95

Reviewed by Marjorie Simmins

Everyone has single hours – even single minutes or moments – after which their lives are forever changed. But not all of us will need every scrap of bravery, determination and creativity we possess to make our subsequent days caring and meaningful. Karyn Freedman’s memoir, One Hour in Paris, which was recently nominated for the 2014 B.C. National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction, details one such person’s journey.

The title tells almost all: over the course of one hour in Paris, Freedman was brutally raped, and is still recovering. While her rapist was convicted to eight years in prison, Freedman is no freed woman 20 years after the event. Instead, she continues to struggle with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and its cyclical, pernicious symptoms, for which she continues to receive counselling and treatment.

Undeniably, Freedman’s spirit and psyche are in some ways permanently injured; she herself refers to psychological trauma as a “chronic condition.” But do not believe for an instant that Freedman’s rapist even came near to vanquishing her warrior heart. First, it took keen, instinctive smarts and speed to eventually escape from her rapist – who used a knife to threaten and control her and frequently said he would kill her. Second, and years later, she looked on the horror of rape worldwide, and did not blanch. Third, and latterly, Freedman decided to pull rape out of the shadows of shame and indifference, by telling her own story, and bearing witness to the stories of others.

A lifelong feminist and an associate professor of philosophy at the University of Guelph, Freedman studied sexual violence around the globe, including Africa’s eastern Congo, which United Nations’ officials have called The Rape Capital of the World. In 2008, Freedman travelled to AIDS-devastated Maun, Botswana, to work in a human rights organization called Women Against Rape (WAR). There, she shared her story with other victims of rape, both adults and children.

When she did this, she learned from one young woman that she had “no idea people in countries like Canada were subject to rape.” Another had never heard anyone talk about rape as candidly as Freedman did – easing the pain and marginalization all of them felt. Yet another teenager told Freedman that hearing her story “would change her future because it showed her that recovery is possible.” It was, writes Freedman, “an indelible moment.”

Freeman continues to give back to the world that once hurt her so badly. She does this most profoundly by having written her memoir, an act that takes spine for writers describing even the gentlest of lives. In the end she views rape as “intensely personal and deeply isolating,” but also a “social problem … that is the result of the way societies are structured and resources and power distributed.”

One Hour in Paris is a gripping and courageous read; the writing is also graceful and accessible. Equally fascinating is Freedman’s focus on the field of trauma studies and discussion of “the nature and reliability of traumatic memories.”

Of her own memoir, she concludes: “And while it is a true story, from start to finish, it is in the end the story as I remember it.”

What a memory – and what a triumph beyond it.

Marjorie Simmins is a West-Coast-raised writer living in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Her memoir about life on the two coasts, Coastal Lives, was published by Pottersfield Press in 2014.


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