My Father's Suitcase

A story of family secrets, abuse, betrayal - and breaking free

Non-Fiction - Autobiography
288 Pages
Reviewed on 03/31/2024
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Author Biography

My Father's Suitcase grew out of my last book, Sundowner of the Skies, a biography of my father, who'd been a famous pioneer aviator in the 1930s & 40s. After he married my mother, he became a tomato grower in Tauranga, New Zealand. He was a bitter and troubled man, who treated Mum like a slave and took out his frustration and anger on us. The publisher of Sundowner wanted the last two chapters detailing his life as a father and husband shortened (about 10,000 words were cut), and the focus to be on his life as an aviator. However, when it was published, readers and reviewers responded to that last section of the book. One said, ‘The most engrossing aspect of the story is the family history behind it.’
For many years I’d wanted to write about my sister’s struggle with mental illness and my intervention to save her life. Like Dad, she had a violent streak, especially towards Mum and me.
My Father’s Suitcase was written very quickly and began as a story about my sister. As I was writing, I knew I needed to include our family life ‒ I could use those words cut from Sundowner!

I wanted this book to focus on sibling abuse, the most common form of family violence, seldom researched and often ignored. It was incredibly healing to write. I wrote out my grief, shame and rage and even found myself feeling very compassionate towards my sister. (She died in August 2023.)

    Book Review

Reviewed by K.C. Finn for Readers' Favorite

My Father's Suitcase falls into the autobiography, family drama, and inspirational writing genres. It is best suited to adult readers and contains a discussion of abuse as well as other adult content and language. Penned by author Mary Garden, this gripping memoir delves into the complexities of intergenerational trauma, sibling abuse, and the journey toward healing and liberation. Through Mary's poignant narrative, readers are invited to witness her resilience and survival in the face of family violence and the troubled relationship with her sister Anna. Set against the backdrop of New Zealand and Australia in the 1950s and 60s, Garden bravely unpacks the layers of trauma stemming from her eccentric father, her mother's hidden secrets, and her sister's battle with mental illness. With raw honesty, Mary sheds light on the guilt and shame surrounding family secrets and the devastating impact of sibling abuse, offering hope and understanding to others who have faced similar challenges.

Author Mary Garden has crafted a profoundly moving memoir that sheds light on the harrowing realities of family violence, but does so in a compelling, emotive, and compassionate way. The author’s candid storytelling style navigates many layers of intergenerational trauma with clarity and wisdom, exploring the troubled dynamics between herself and her sister Anna, who battled mental illness. Garden's narrative is both heartbreaking and empowering as she bravely confronts the guilt, shame, and secrecy surrounding her family's past, and I was drawn to the duality of vulnerability and confidence in her warm narrative flow. Through her poignant storytelling, Garden not only offers solace to those who have endured similar experiences but also raises awareness about the often-overlooked issue of sibling abuse. Overall, I would certainly recommend My Father's Suitcase as a much-needed reminder of the importance of breaking free from the cycle of violence and trauma for those who need it.

Laura R. Brush

In her thoughtful memoir, My Father’s Suitcase, Mary Garden explores the depths of her clashes with a sibling who inflicted severe abuse on her, then examines her arduous path to healing. With remarkable insight, Garden describes the family dynamics that laid the groundwork for her charged relations with her sister. Her narrative is both a candid recounting of her experiences and an examination of the influence of familial relationships on individual development. By investigating family dynamics, Garden sheds light on the complex interplay between early environmental factors and subsequent interpersonal relationships. She forges a crucial roadmap for those who, as adults, continue to navigate the continuing impact of sibling abuse.

Garden's work is an excellent fusion of raw memoir and meticulous research that delves into the intricate and often tumultuous dynamics of sibling relationships. Her book offers unflinching transparency from the electrifying beginning to its empathetic end. In navigating the complexities of sibling conflict, Mary Garden passionately denounces victim-blaming and sounds a clarion call for unyielding honesty, truth, and authenticity. At the core of this remarkable narrative lies an astonishing and harrowing account of the violence one sister endured at the hands of another. Garden demonstrates an enormous sense of heroic compassion and drives home the resilience of the human spirit. My Father’s Suitcase is a compelling and insightful journey into the heart of familial conflict coupled with the liberating power of understanding and forgiveness. This book is not merely a story; it is a beacon of hope for anyone seeking to heal from the shadows of their past.

Doreen Chombu

My Father's Suitcase by Mary Garden is a poignant memoir that chronicles the continuous abuse inflicted on the author by her sister, Anna. The book sheds light on a less-discussed topic of sibling abuse, offering a fresh perspective that challenges the common notion of sibling rivalry. The author highlights the difference through solid examples of physical and verbal attacks. From childhood, Mary’s sister Anna displayed signs of mental instability, and, coupled with their father's control and abuse and their mother's and brother’s lack of action, the situation worsened. Mary discusses her childhood and the estrangement she experienced from her family. She shares how her journey toward healing led her to make some wrong choices in India. After reuniting with her sister, family secrets and disputes over books added to the tension and turmoil in their relationship. Ultimately, Mary talks about her journey to forgiveness, healing, compassion, and peace, describing the transformative power of understanding and self-discovery within herself.

My Father's Suitcase is a powerful and touching book that will leave you with a range of emotions. With her honest and raw storytelling, Mary Garden invites readers on a journey of empathy and understanding toward those who have been through similar experiences in their own families. This is a must-read for anyone who wants to explore the complexities of family relationships and the impact of past traumas on individuals and their loved ones. Her courage in sharing her struggles and finding catharsis through writing is certainly inspiring, and it is a testament to the power of storytelling in both personal healing and raising societal awareness. Mary covers many sensitive issues such as child abuse, violence, victim blaming, mental illnesses, and sexual assault, among others. These issues may trigger some readers, but the book is a must for those who have experienced similar situations as it provides valuable insights and helps readers realize they are not alone. The author's casual narration, educational tidbits on New Zealand culture and history, and explanations of trauma responses and symptoms make the book engaging. I hope that many people benefit from its valuable insights.