Memoir Book Review: Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You by Sue William Silverman

by Matilda Butler on December 9, 2009

catnav-book-raves-active-3Post #30 – Women’s Memoirs, Book Raves – Matilda Butler and Kendra Bonnett

Reviewed by Karen Walker

Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You by Sue William Silverman is a winner of the Associated Writing Programs Award for Creative Nonfiction and I can see why. Even if it weren’t a true story, it sizzles and sparkles like a good novel. How I wish it were a novel and that the author didn’t really experience what she writes about. This first of two memoirs by Silverman tells the story of an incestuous relationship with her father, which began somewhere around four years of age.

Silverman’s directness and honesty immediately hooked me when, in her preface, she details her father’s accomplishments. He was Chief Counsel to the Secretary of the Interior; helped the Philippines gain independence, assisted in the creation of the Puerto Rican Commonwealth, worked to implement home rule for the Virgin Islands, Guam and Samoa, and more. She then says, “My father was also a child molester. I know. Because he sexually molested me.” How can you not want to turn the page? Don’t we all have images of supposedly picture-perfect families? Silverman blasts that myth to pieces.

I found myself reading this memoir on three levels: as an adult survivor of childhood sexual abuse myself, as a memoir writer, and as one who loves reading books.

Silverman’s gut-wrenching scenes with her father give us the specifics of what happened. But it is when she shares her internal process that I connect most strongly: “I no longer hear sound. This pressure. This sweat. I am no longer in this car. I think I will stop breathing.” Later on, we come to understand that Silverman disassociated during sex with her father. This is a common phenomenon in childhood sexual abuse victims, and one I experienced myself.

As a survivor, this was a difficult, painful read. At times I needed to stop and remind myself to breathe. Other times, I wanted to put the book down and not pick it up again. As a memoir writer, I was riveted to the book, unable to put it down because of the superb craftsmanship, the beauty, lyricism and poetry of language. As a lover of books, I couldn’t wait to find out what was going to happen to this little girl.

In terms of structure, the memoir opens with Silverman seeking the help of a therapist. She then writes her childhood in extended flashbacks. I was grateful the book began with Silverman as an adult somewhere she could finally begin to heal, because the relentless onslaught of her father and the unspeakable things he did to her as a child, were, frankly, unbearable at times. I understand the choice the writer made to structure the memoir this way, but it was difficult to wait until the very end of the book to know that healing occurred. Others who have not experienced childhood sexual abuse might react quite differently.

The fugue-like state Silverman describes–her unhealthy relationship with food and the lack of understanding as to what constitutes normalcy—are themes that run through the memoir. Anyone who has experienced anything close to what Silverman has will both empathize with and relate to her. Those who have not experienced childhood abuse will find the memoir heart-wrenching, but you will share in the testament to the human spirit that Silverman survived her childhood and went on to thrive as an adult.

With this memoir, Silverman breaks through the taboo our society has about speaking the unspeakable. Incest is real. Child molesters, sexual predators, pedophiles do exist and savagely destroy childhood innocence, leaving legacies that linger long after childhood has passed.

Yes, it’s a tough read. But it’s one that’s well worth the emotional reactions one might have. For memoir writers, it is creative nonfiction at its best. Read it and learn the craft from a master. For those who love to read, you’re in for an emotional roller-coaster of a story. But it’s a story told well. And it’s a story we need to hear.

Reviewer Karen Walker’s website is:
Her blog is:

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Memoir Writing and Book Review of Sue William Silverman's memoir Love Sick. — Memoir Writing
December 16, 2009 at

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Helen Ginger December 9, 2009 at

A wonderful review of this book, Karen. I don’t know if I could read it – certainly not without many breaks, I think. I’m with you, I’m glad she starts off as an adult so you know she at least survived the trauma.

Straight From Hel

Becky December 26, 2009 at

Sounds like a very interesting book, I am glad to know up front that the person actually survives also. Knowing that I think I will go ahead and check it out. I love reading memoirs, I just finished reading one recently titled, “bipolar bare” by Carlton Davis. I had no idea what living with bipolar was like until reading this book. The complex interweaving of stories, viewpoints, images of what life with bipolar is like were astounding… I couldn’t put it down. Can’t wait to check out “Terror Father.”

Becky December 26, 2009 at

Oh forgot… here is a link to “bipolar bare,” for anyone interested…I always love sharing my books with people too.

Charmelle I. Guercio October 5, 2010 at

I have both of Sue’s Best Sellers, Because I Remember Terror, Father… also Love Sick-

Her book Because I Remember Terror, Father… is one that hits me in the heart because of the long term violent sexual abouse our only granddaughter faced since pre school age-
In Spring 2007, their dad took a plea bargain- He is in prison and will remain there for approximately 13 more years- Only one DA’s office investigated in one parish where her dad violently abused and drugged her –
One other DA did not invesitgate in the two parishes in “his” district where the abuse was also reported, their dad’s and his parents’ home parishes in earlier years-
Like Sue, our granddaughter began to face the trauma about preschool age (according to her description of earliest memories of the attacks)-

Her brother two years younger than her was forced to witness the violent rapes and abuse since he was just a toddler- Stress worsened for him too as the investigation continued for years- Like his sister, he was repeatedly prepared by prosecutors and given medical counseling support to go before the Grand Jury- He described her being raped each day they stayed at their grandparents visiting them and their dad- As his sister did, he too described the rapes happening each day of a week or 2 week stay in vacation time or every day of a weekend stay in school time throughout the years- When asked how often did she NOT get raped during a visit, they repeatedly said she was raped EVERY day or every night- Finally an indictment was handed by the Grand Jury –

From the first day I learned of the abuse, I felt as wounded as my grandkids- I remain heartbroken- On the day their dad took the plea bargain in 2007, both were termed victims of sex crimes & abuse-

Sue’s book, Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You..helped me so much during these past years- There were so many things that I did not understand about our preteen, then “teen” granddaughter’s behavior- I could not understand why she had to be homeschooled-
She is a very intelligent girl with inherited drawing talent and honors level music talent, plays 2 instruments, plays high level music- Her actions were a mystery to me, especially WHY she couldn’t function in school-

After the abuse was exposed, I read specific feelings and actions that Sue described in her memoirs of the tragic abuse she faced-
Her memoirs gave me insight into our granddaughter’s actions and view of life- Sue’s descriptions of HOW she felt at certain times, and describing how she dressed the way she did at times of feeling certain ways… opened my eyes to reasons why our granddaughter did certain things just AS Sue did-
I was shocked to read about the same type bad feelings, illness, and inability to be AT school as expected-
When I read of Sue having other NAMES for “identities” she sometimes felt she needed to BE, I had even more insight- Our granddaughter as a young teen chose a nickname for herself – She obviously chose the nickname because she considered it more fitting for her change in dress and behavior –

While many parents and grandparents might consider such actions very common for today’s teens, I could, because of my knowledge of the abuse, see a deeper reason behind the different identity she wanted at some times- At times her way of dress, different walk, and posture, were upsetting to me- I could see she felt stronger, more in control, with more confidence at those times- She was AS Sue described, different from the identity of who she really IS, the identity who was so WEAK when controlled, victimized and overpowered-
It made more sense once Sue’s descriptions had given me real insight-

Sue’s memoirs helped me understand that our grandkids’ problems they came to face stemmed from TRAUMA EFFECTS-
Her book, Love Sick, describes another devastating effect of repeated sexual abuse and long term “control”-
In my own opinion, the control the abuser has over the victim, is the same as any other addiction having control over a person- Love Sick gives a deeper look into addiction that can happen to any helpless victim-
Her book helped me understand that Sex Addiction and/or Love Addiction can be a very real, expected effect of long term sex abuse-
In our grandkids’ case, like Sue’s, it was long term incest BY THE FATHER-

Thanks to Sue’s memoirs, I have a deeper insight into this tragic type trauma leading to the intense LOVE ADDICTION of wanting to hear “I Love You”- Those three words are what the victim hears repeatedly, when in fact the abuser feels NO LOVE at all- Repeatedly hearing this, coupled with the sex abuse, creates a HUGE craving to HEAR those 3 words often-

I pray that someday my grandkids can overcome the trauma and put their lives on track as Sue did- So far I have not been able to convince them, now age 21 and 19, to read her 2 books- They want to only focus on things that might help them forget the trauma they faced- I hope one day Sue’s books can be an inspiration to them to overcome the trauma so they might want to help others as Sue has done-

Cassandra October 20, 2010 at

It’s hard to read a description of an adult male raping a four year old child as an “incestuous relationship”. A four year old child being raped repeatedly is not in a “relationship” with the rapist. The fact that they are biologically related doesn’t turn a rapist and victim into two people in a relationship. They were a rapist and a victim. It’s this kind of language that contributes to leniency towards the rapist when the victim and the rapist are biologically related. Another common expression is “the man had sex with the child.” The man ‘raped the child’ is accurate, children don’t have sex with adults, it’s always rape.

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