From darkness to light: a Vancouver woman’s harrowing tale of abuse and survival is told in a new book

Rumana Monzur likes to say she lost her sight but gained her vision. In 2011, the Vancouver woman made headlines around the world when, on a return trip to Bangladesh, she was left blinded by a vicious attack by her then-husband. Today, she is the subject of a powerful new biography.

Author Denise Chong says she spent six and a half years writing Out of Darkness: Rumana Monzur’s Journey Through Betrayal, Tyranny, and Abuse.

Chong says she wanted to go beyond the headlines to tell the real story.

John Ackermann sits down with Denise Chong, author of Out of Darkness

John Ackermann sits down with Denise Chong, author of Out of Darkness: Rumana Monzur’s Journey Through Betrayal, Tyranny, and Abuse

“It attracted just as much attention even in Metro Vancouver as in Bangladesh, India, [and] the UK, because of not just the brutality of that attack, but who it happened to.”

Monzur was born in Bangladesh in 1978. She falls in love with Sumon and their romance blossoms into a “love” marriage. He was sophisticated, educated, and westernized. But practically overnight, his demeanour and behaviour towards her changes.

“The romance was a textbook case of what ultimately leads to domestic assault — a very quick romance, a quick marriage, then suddenly, things change,” said Chong.

Despite his objections, Monzur continued her academic career. She was a professor on leave from Dhaka University, enrolled in grad school at UBC, when she mustered the courage to leave him. She flew back home to tell him she wanted a divorce.

Her husband attacked her in front of their young daughter, gouging out her eyes and biting off part of her nose, leaving her blind and in need of reconstructive surgery. It took police days to arrest him. Even then, he never stood trial for his crime, instead, dying in custody.

“People said when I went back to do the research, if a professor at Dhaka University, if Rumana Monzur couldn’t get justice, how can women even have the courage to come forward?”

There were long hours spent interviewing Monzur, of course, but also a trip to Bangladesh, where Rumana’s story began.

“And there I sought out those close to her — family, relatives, colleagues. I also sought out human rights activists, journalists, doctors, and NGO people to understand how Rumana could live a decade as a professor and no one in her immediate family had an inkling that she was suffering domestic abuse until it came to the near-deadly assault.”

Chong says the book was started because Monzur wanted a record of what happened.

“She wanted her daughter to know what had happened to her mother, to document it, and know that her mother was not just a victim, that she had come out of it. But she was afraid that her daughter would just forget all that and then not have it in her memory.”

Today, Chong is happy to report that Rumana is a lawyer living in Vancouver, and her daughter is all grown up.

“Her daughter was just accepted to go to UBC, so she feels like she’s anchored her daughter well. Her daughter is now 18.”

Chong says Rumana continues to defend other victims of abuse.

“She wants to be an advocate now and she is. She is a strong voice.”

Chong hopes the reader takes away a hopeful, encouraging message from Monzur’s story.

“Someone [told her], ‘You’re a superhero. It’s just that your cape’s invisible.'”

Out of Darkness is a harrowing tale of survival that shows domestic abuse can happen to anyone, regardless of their background or station in life. Monzur’s story is also an example of the resilience of the human spirit in the face of the most devastating of circumstances.

Out of Darkness: Rumana Monzur’s Journey Through Betrayal, Tyranny, and Abuse is published by Random House Canada.

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