Reema Zaman

Reema Zaman’s memoir, “I Am Yours,” is an odyssey of forgiveness, empowerment and self esteem. (Courtesy of Erika Ellis Photography)

Reema Zaman has unleashed her voice. In a world that has attempted to hush and limit women everywhere, Zaman has released her most intimate and carefully crafted work: her memoir, “I Am Yours,” an odyssey of forgiveness, empowerment and self esteem.

The author, a Bangladeshi speaker and actress, spent much of her youth in Hawaii and Thailand before moving to New York. Later in adulthood and her path of healing, she moved to Oregon where she became the recipient of Literary Arts’ 2018 Oregon Literary Fellowship. Zaman is now on an “indefinite” book tour for her literary debut’s immediate success.

Her intent for the memoir — and her personal aspiration as well — is spelled out in the text with grace. “All I have ever wanted, my love, is for every person to speak their truth, but not at the expense of speaking over another, or at the risk of being spoken over,” she writes.

A catalyst for her the initial stages of “I Am Yours” is Cheryl Strayed’s sister book, “Wild.”

“[Wild] gave me permission to feel that my full self was worthy of telling a story because here she was just a deeply intellectual feminist woman who is also being so transparent about promiscuous sex and cheating and drug abuse and the entirety of herself was allowed to exist,” Zaman told the Emerald. “The only female characters I had previously really come across in literature were the virgin or the whore, the bad or the good girl. And here was this woman who is beyond labels, beyond trope.”

Mirroring Strayed’s poise and courage, “I Am Yours” is a lifetime of emotions neatly wrapped into one mesmeric narrative. The timeline begins when Zaman is three years old, absorbed in the deep emotions of childhood and the foundational love she feels for her mother. Throughout the timeline of her life are experiences of sexual assault, miscarriage, anorexia, domestic abuse and near-constant patriarchal belittlement. Despite the profusion of trauma the author shoulders, the pages lack feelings of anger — in its place is an unwavering sense of profound empathy.

“Art, love and voice have replaced anger, wound and silence, and now, there is pure, brazen joy,” writes Zaman. “In these pages, my hummingbird heart has finally found her sky, an open expanse where she can fly freely. … Year by year, I reclaim my life.”

From the opening pages, Zaman writes to an unnamed character, always with her, who she refers to directly as “you” — or more often than not, “my love.” As a child, she explained that she conceptualized her inner voice as an imaginary companion, and throughout the entirety of the book, its presence remains. With the endurance of a violent marriage and exploitation in the merciless entertainment industry, its presence falters. Zaman believes the closeness with one’s inner voice, which guides the narrative, is a strong indication of how healthy or unhealthy one’s environment is.

“We're all born with an inner voice,” Zaman says. “Then, to add the chaos of life, the inner voice gets muted out. And our path back to healing and strength and self esteem is about doing the work to peel away the noise and chaos of life, to return to alignment… that's why the word I use for healing is alignment. I won't be spliced any longer. I must align.”

Zaman has a pure heart, handing out love through heart-shaped cakes, scribbling sentences of tenderness to strangers on the subway, and writing her memoir for the reader to be empowered through her own experiences. She describes herself candidly and truthfully, as she still does on social media, to reassure readers that a real person survived these traumas, and these are the tools she used to do so. The book provides validation, affirming readers that this process of alignment is achievable. “A large part of a memoir’s power is the radical transparency and the radical trust that you're putting into humankind,” she told the Emerald.

Now, the memoir is being implemented into high school and college curriculum (including the University of Oregon) as a lesson to students on how to listen to and honor their intuition. The book pushes them to reflect on their life and ask how far or near they were to their inner voice at any specific point in time.

Weaved throughout the narrative are years of sage reflection on her own trauma and healing, leading to Zaman’s understanding of the implications and external causes of shame and fear that are ubiquitously felt but seldom put into words. Her experiences with anorexia and racial prejudice never take the spotlight, but are intentionally and consistently interspersed throughout the timeline, mirroring her true relationship with these respective hardships.

Aforementioned reverence to intuition is an explication of the book’s title. For Zaman, one’s own inner voice has much to do with Namaste, “the divine in me honors the divine in you” — essentially allowing reflection to foster empathy and love. “That's how I believe the inner voice, this inner voice to me, is the inner humanity that lives within every human being,” Zaman says. “It's the connective device that means you and I are one.” 

“I Am Yours” is an act of gratitude, bravery and rising above. Most of all, “I Am Yours” is an act of love for the reader, whoever that human may be.

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