South of Forgiveness: A True Story of Rape and Responsibility by Thordis ElvaOne ordinary spring morning in Reykjavik, Iceland, Thordis Elva kisses her son and partner goodbye before boarding a plane to do a remarkable thing: fly seven-thousand miles to South Africa to confront the man who raped her when she was just sixteen. Meanwhile, in Sydney, Australia, Tom Stranger nervously embarks on an equally life-changing journey to meet Thordis, wondering whether he is worthy of this milestone. After exchanging hundreds of searingly honest email messages over eight years, Thordis and Tom decided it was time to speak face to face. Coming from opposite sides of the globe, they meet in the middle, in Cape Town, South Africa, a country that is no stranger to violence and the healing power of forgiveness.
South of Forgiveness is an unprecedented collaboration between a survivor and a perpetrator, each equally committed to exploring the darkest moment of their lives. It is a true story about being bent but not broken, facing fear with courage, and finding hope even in the most wounded of places. Personable, accessible, and compelling, this is an intense and refreshing look at a gendered violence, rape culture, personal responsibility, and the effect that patriarchal cultures have on both men and women.
South of Forgiveness review: An unlikely memoir of rape and forgiveness
In December , year-old Australian student Tom Stranger raped his year-old girlfriend, Thordis Elva, in her Reykjavik bedroom. Seventeen years later the two arrange to meet in South Africa with "the intention of reaching forgiveness, once and for all". This unusual, courageous attempt at rapprochement is documented in South of Forgiveness , which is written by both. For many survivors of sexual violence, the thought of seeing their attacker again, let alone spending a week talking to him, would cause great distress. Some might consider the delivery of a hard kick to the groin the only possible reason to seek the perpetrator out. Others would want any re-connection to happen alongside a cop ready to step up and arrest the bastard.
Though not overtly religious, this memoir exemplifies the most thorough experience of interpersonal forgiveness I have ever read or heard of. It demonstrates in minute detail how true healing came for a victim of rape as well as for the perpetrator. In , the primary author, Thordis Elva, a citizen of Iceland, was sixteen and involved in a somewhat casual adolescent relationship with Tom Stranger, an eighteen-year-old exchange student from Australia. At a festive event one evening, Thordis was drinking too much and headed for the bathroom to vomit. Tom went in after her, picked up her barely-conscious body, took her home to her own bedroom, removed all her clothes, and raped her for two hours. Readers do not learn these details until later. The book opens with an email from Tom to Thordis in , responding to a message from her about the rape eight years earlier.
Please note that this review discusses sexual violence and may be upsetting to some people. I received a copy of this book courtesy of Lost Magazine.
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Thordis Elva is from Iceland and known to Icelanders as a writer, playwright, journalist and public speaker. She currently resides in Stockholm, Sweden with her partner Vidir and their son. Tom Stranger is Australian. He met Elva when he was 18 and on a student exchange programme in Iceland, and the pair had a relationship. Since then, he has worked in various sectors community services, youth, outdoor recreation, charity, construction, and hospitality. For now, he is working as a landscape gardener and lives in Sydney with his wife, Cat. From: tomsstranger hotmail.
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