When the Story Hurts too Much: Fakhra Younas’ Life and Memoir

Memoir by Pakistani Author Fakhra YounasWhen a woman tells her story, writes her memoir, she is writing her own history. She becomes visible to history; part of the human narrative. Telling her truth, her experience and wisdom, she leaves her legacy.

When the life lived hurts too much… it’s hard to write, and hard to tell. And when the story told hurts too much, it’s hard to read and hard to share.

Hard too, not to share.

Fakhra Younas’ story is one of those memoirs. Her life was one of those lives. And we must share it.


Warning. If you are not yet aware of her story and are sensitive to violence against women, please think twice before clicking on any of the links because they mostly have photos that are excruciating to look at.

Note on Name Spellings: The Italian memoir and Italian articles spell her name with an “as”: Fakhra Younas. The  Washington Post and related articles have used “us” at the end, and no “o”: Fakhra Yunus;  Huffington Post: Fakhra Younus; also seen, her first name spelled as Fakhira.


On March 17, 2012 in Rome, Italy, a Pakistani mother, ended her own life, after 12 years that none of us could imagine or endure. Fakhra Younas was in her early 30s, has one son, and one memoir, Il Volto Cancellato, written with Elena Doni.

While it is her death that brought her life to my attention, it is her life that has left me in a state of shock. Her story is very hard to know about. Yet we need to know, as we are able to, so it can inform our lives, our focus, our voices, our writing. We need to know, because what happened to her happens to thousands of women. And the threat of it threatens any one of us.


Fakhra Younas’ story is of a woman born in a lower class in India, who lived in the red-light district in Karachi, was taught to dance for customers and in time perform in other ways. The daughter of a heroin addict, one account says, she helped support the family. A meeting of a well-to-do man from a powerful political family, Bilal Khar, led to marriage. The chance to leave her difficult life and marry into a prominent family must have held such hope. Perhaps the Pretty in Pink story that was such a hit in the movies in the US is a pop culture parallel. But there the resemblance ends.

Tehmina Durrani's memoir My Feudal LordAs we’ve read about first hand from Tehmina Durrani, author of My Feudal Lord, violence against woman knows no class; being wealthy or prominent gives you no more protection from being hurt than being poor.

Durrani had been married into the powerful political family in Pakistan, to Gulam Mustafa Khar, an important politician in the Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto government, later, Chief Minister of Punjab. [See Jazbah Magazine article.] Her telling her story, writing her history in memoir, cost her a lot.

Fakhra Younas married Gulam Mustafa Khar’s son by a first wife, Bilal Khar, which made the author Tehmina Durrani, Fakhra’s step mother-in-law.

The story is painfully well-told in this Time Magazine article The Evil that Men Do by Hannah Bloch, August 20, 2001. Fakhra tells how it was three years of violence in her martial home. She  leaves her husband, returning to her mother in Karachi, and one horrible day in May, her husband awakens her from a nap calling her name, and in an act of horrific cruelty, pours acid on her. If you have the courage to read The Evil that Men Do, and see the pictures, you will never forget what a powerful threat the threat of an acid attack is.

Hannah Bloch explains: “Acid, nitric or hydrochloric, has long been the weapon of retribution for Pakistani men against disloyal, disobedient or overly determined women. One reason is that acid is cheap and readily available.” (Pakistan and a number of other countries as well. See Wikipedia.)

There is much more to the story than told here. Some period after the acid attack, Fakhra secretly asks Tehmina Durrani for help and Tehmina takes Fakhra in. Tehmina is able to make arrangements for Fakhra to start a new life in Italy, where Fakhra would receive help and support from the Italian Government, and in time other groups. Tehmina Durrani tells the story in her article The Life and Death of an Acid Victim in The International News on March 24, 2012, and specifically names organizations and people who helped.


Elena Doni, an Italian writer, worked with Fakhra on her memoir, and it was published in Italian as Il Volto Cancellato in about 2005, and reportedly translated into Spanish, Le visage efface in French and, Das ausgeloschte Gesicht in German. I have not discovered it available in English yet.

Who will step up to translate Il Volto Cancellato by Fakhra Younas for the English speaking public, or to make it available?

Fakhra Younas had a courage few of us might have to dare to live after the violence against her left her without a face to comfortably show in public. Who knows what degree of pain she had to endure in her skin, and what further pain in her spirit. The devastation of jealousy.

Let us remember Fakhra Younas’ name and her courage and use our writing to raise visibility, and put pressure on the governments and people of countries that perpetuate crimes against women. Hard as it is in America, to have definitive proof of those who commit violence against women that leads to conviction, it is harder still in countries where women are not considered equal to men.

Vote with your reading and writing and commenting power. Ask that her book be translated into English. Let others know in your own voice and your own way, that though we may be living without fear or threat of harm, many are not free in their own homes.


When a woman tells her story, writes her memoir, she becomes an author. In writing her own history, she becomes visible to history, part of the human narrative. She tells her truth, shares her experience and wisdom. She leaves a written legacy.

When the life lived hurts too much… it’s hard to write, and hard to tell.

And when the story told hurts too much, it’s hard to read and hard to share.

Hard too, not to share.

Fakhra Younas’ story is one of those memoirs. Her life was one of those lives.

We must remember her. Let us remember her name for all the women who suffer this cruelty.

I will be looking for news of actions that result from the world’s notice of Fakhra’s life and death, that may help reduce and stop future attacks.

We owe a debt of gratitude to all the courageous women writers who have pulled their lives away from tending to others and chores to prepare their own histories, their memoirs. And we further owe a debt of gratitude to those who work with women to coach, type, edit and publish their memoirs.

News and Blog Reports about Fakhra Younas in English and Italian

Updated 3/29/2012 at 12:00 pm EST US. See comments for further updates.

LeNews.eu, The Terrible Story…, liked 143 times for FB, and read 2,773 times on their site as of 3/27/2012 10:41 AM EST

An Italian Interview on Dreamsworld.it

Newsline (Pakistan) – A Burning Issue by Maheen Bashir Adamjee 3/18/2012 In depth story.

ABC News article by @MichaelaConley on 3/27/2012. The roughest picture up top. Adds more context to the field of plastic surgery for acid attack survivors.

Huffington Post weighs in on 3/28/2012. With 1700+FB shres, 51 tweets, 7 Google+, 222 emails and 1200 comments. Extraordinary response. Photos of the funeral and protest by Pakistani women.

Alessandra Boga on il legno storto – Un pensiero per Fakhra Younas (IT) Includes devastating details about Fakhra’s last day, more specifics than so far any other accounts have had. In Italian.

Elisa Carriero (IT)

Caterina Balivo (IT)

The International News, Shunned in Life, Embraced in Death, by Saher Baloch, 3/26, 2012

ENewsPaper- Pakistani people to answer – Roberto Franceschinis Consul of Italy in Karachi

Lettera43.it – Roma, morta suicida la scrittrice Fakhra Younas (187 FB likes, and 37 Tweets as of 3/27/2012 11:07 AM EST)

Reuters Pakistam – The Woman Who Died Twice

The Washington Post Blog – Pakistan acid victim Fakhra Yunus commits suicide
by Elizabeth Flock

Wikipedia on Il Volto Cancellato

Telenova Giornale: La storia di Fakhra, vittima della violenza di genere 3/27/3012

Pakistan Today – Feudal curse and brutality 3/28/2012

Burn Victims of Pakistan on Huffington Post by Shama Junejo 3/28/2012


Twitter’s Search on Fakhra includes tweets, twitter accounts, images and videos, from around the world.

YouTube Search on Fakhra includes English and other language TV reports.

What the Trend / Fakhra

See more updates in the comments.

Fakhra Yunus' memoir in French

French edition of Fahkra's memoir

German translation of Il Volto Cancellato by Fakhra Younas

German edition of Fakhra's memoir


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Category: Pakistani Women Writers, Women Writing Memoirs

Comments (41)

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  1. Smita Jagdale says:

    I am from India, and I know what goes on in that part of Asia. There are a few books written by a few women who have been tortured. Most of the husbands would love to control their wives, and verbal abuse is their strong weapon,saying,” Woman is for feeding and Breeding.” Money, education, power, independence, country, race, language and religion have no bars. The society does not know and friends do not interfere–they are not friends anyway. This disease is multi-factorial and sadly,it has deep roots for generations. Things are changing with a slow pace, as women get educated, develop free spirit,and become self-sufficient.

    I hope we get to read the long-awaited book about Fakhra’s story.

    • Smita, Thank you very much for your comment here. It sounds like you are very informed about the situation. As I read everything I can on the topic, I realize nothing short of an ongoing national campaign to reshape the culture, like I’ve seen in Taiwan and China to support male-female equality, and 1 child only in China, and 2 only (back in the late 1970s) for Taiwan. Big signs. TV ads. Radio spots. That’s just what I noticed, probably there were shows and articles and interviews all in support of it too.

      Mondadori is looking for an English publisher for Il volto cancellato. We will be publishing a blog post by Fakhra’s co-author, Elena Doni shortly. She’s prepared to write an update if an English language publisher steps up. – Anora McGaha, Editor

  2. Brittany Cooper says:

    Hello, Fakhra’s story is one that should be available in the English-speaking world. As I am proficient in Italian I would like to offer to work on the translation; does anybody know how I can get in contact with the publishers?
    Brittany Cooper

  3. News stories continue to get published, keeping Fakhra Younas’ (Fakhra Younus, Fakhra Yunus)memory fresh. Outrage continues.

    This 4/16/2012, almost one month after her death.

  4. April 9 – 10, 2012 The story is reported in the New York Times
    By Declan Walsh, with contributions by Gaia Pianigiani and Elisabetta Povoledo from Rome, Italy.

  5. Gill Wyatt says:

    I am truly staggered that this book is not available in English. I hope it happens soon; this story needs to be told.

    • Gill, Thank you for weighing in. The company that published Il Volto Cancellato is Mondadori. Their Twitter handle is @librimondadori. If you feel inspired, send a tweet to them, or simply one saying what you said here with the hashtag #Fakhra. I’ve written to the PR person at Mondadori inquiring this, but so far no response. – Anora

  6. The most important stories about Fakhra Younas, also spelled Fakhra Yunus or Fakhra Younus.

    Hannah Block: Time Magazine 8/20/2001 The Evil That Men Do

    Fakhra Younas: Il Volto Cancellato published by Mondadori in 2005 Fakhra’s own memoir written with Elena Doni.

    2006 Italian Interview on ManidiStrega

    Tehmina Durrani: The International News 3/24/2012 – The Life and Death of an Acid Victim Tehmina Durrani was related to Fakhra by marriage, and by personal experience with domestic violence and abuse. She helped Fakhra get out of Pakistan and start a new life in Italy. Her piece also lists organizations and individuals who loved and cared for Fakhra and her son.

    Sana Saleem: Dawn.com 3/26/2012 Justice after Fakhra

    Myra MacDonald: Reuters – The woman who died twice, Pakistan and acid attacks, 3/26/3012

    Cosima Ungaro: Huffington Post UK 3/30/2012 12:22 Fakhra Younas: A Profile of the Acid Attack Victim Whose Story Touched the World

    Sebastian Abbott: AP on Huffington Post US 3/29/2012 05:54 PM ET – perhaps the most translated and circulated Fakhra Younus Dead: Pakistani Acid Victim Commits Suicide

    Mikaela Conley: ABC News 3/28/2012 – Acid Attack Victim Fakhra Yunus Commits Suicide

    Barbara Schiavulli: Il Fatto Quotidiano.it 3/23/2012 (120 comments) Fakhra, uomini di latta

    Alessandra Boga: il legno storto 3/28/2012 – Un pensiero per Fakhra Younas (IT)

    Saroop Ijaz: The Tribune Express: Burning Face 4/1/2012 Very moving piece asking important questions.

  7. Blog Posts

    Liberal Fascist – Watching Saving Face


    On MUFTAH, a Middle Eastern Site: Remembering Fakhra Yunus by Ayesha Chugh (It starts saying yesterday, referring to the day Fakhra ended her life, which really was 3/17/2012)

    Perez Hilton.com So Sad! Acid Attack Victim Commits Suicide, 3/29/2012 4:40pm


    Fakhra Younas: La Persecuzione delle Donne Nel Mondo Quotes from Il Volto Cancellato. WARNING: many very disturbing pictures about violence against women.

  8. Twitter Hashtags

    #JusticeforFakhra March 25 – 26

    #Fakhra Ongoing, through March 30 still.

  9. The Tribune Express, with the International Herald Tribune
    Bury Her Standing by Amber Darr – Clear strong story line.

  10. Italian Television piece from 3/23/2012

    Warning – very painful images of women’s faces damaged by acid attacks

  11. 3/29/2012 Twitter feed with and without hashtag for Fakhra, starts to show Spanish and other roman lettered language tweets, harder to identify which country.

    From @kpwanity – a news feed about women Indonesia 3/29/2012 15:49 WIB

    DN Globo (post date unclear)

    In Expressen.se on 3/28/2012 17:07

    Manset HABER 3/29/2012 12:29

    e-gossiproom – 12:13 (no clear date)

    Vanity Fair.it 3/23/2012

    Malawi Voice

  12. Finally an image with a sign saying: “Stop Open Sale of Acid” on Press Trust of India.

  13. The Middle East

    Egypt – no sign as of 3/28 11pm.

    Gulf News 3/25 19:23 pm
    Picture of cheap acid in plastic bottles available for less than a US dollar.
    “Acid attack victim commits suicide after justice system fails her.”

  14. Making the connection with domestic violence:

    “Survivor of grave domestic violence commits suicide”
    3/28/2012 20:52 http://www.b92.net

    “The suicide has once again triggered a severe reaction internationally.”

  15. US Los Angeles Times

    by Emily Alpert 3/28/2012 4:26 PM


    For a lengthy list of news stories in English, check news.google.com.

  16. Spanish News
    La Patilla 3/25/2012
    Mujer quemada con ácido por su esposo se suicidó ante injusticia de la ley

  17. India Today updated their post on 3/27/2012 at 11:31 IST

    A related post on 3/12/2012 talks about treating acid attacks as seriously as rapes.

    ” ‘This crime ruins a victim’s life completely…’ Tirath [The Women and Child Development minister] said.

    Her ministry was also keen on curbing over-the-counter sale of concentrated acid in the market.”

  18. Key Articles:

    Time Magazine article by @realhannahbloch in August 20, 2001 Time Magazine

    The Woman who died twice; Pakistan and acid attacks by @myraemacdonald
    3/26/2012 on Reuters

    Tehmina Durrani article in the International News 3/24/2012

  19. Huffington Post article by Sebastian Abbot (AP) shows the tremendous interest in Fakhra Younas. 3/28/12 5:54 pm http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/28/fakhra-younus-dead-pakistan-acid_n_1384612.html

    2,034 FB Shares
    54 Tweets
    10 Google +
    270 Emails

  20. Global Post story by Amy Silverstein, posted 3/28/2012 at 11:54. Well written, well documented with the sources of her information.

  21. Italy’s Telenova Ragusa posted La storia di Fakhra, vittima della violenza di genere 3/27/2012 7:16

    Quoted from the article:

    “Questa donna coraggio, divenuta paladina dei diritti femminili, autrice del libro “Il volto cancellato” che ha venduto milioni di copie, per anni è stata il simbolo della lotta contro la violenza di genere. In occasione di quella sua visita in terra iblea alla domanda: “Come è possibile che ancora oggi in Pakistan possa accadere che un uomo che acidifica una donna resti impunito?”, Fakhra rispose: “Qui in Italia non vi gettano l’acido, ma vi ammazzano direttamente. Forse voi italiane non ve ne siete ancora rese conto, ma lo stalking, la persecuzione sono violenze psicologiche altrettanto terribili, che poi nei casi più gravi culminano nell’omicidio”.

    Translated loosely:

    This courageous woman, who became a _______ for women’s rights, author of the book, The Erased Face” which sold millions of copies, for years was the symbol of the battle against the violence against the sexes.
    When she visited ________, to the question, “How is it possible that even today, in Pakistan, a man can attack a woman with acid with impunity?”, Fakhra answered:

    “Here in Italy they don’t throw acid on you, they just kill you. Maybe you Italians are not yet aware but stalking and persecution are [a form of] psychological violence as terrible, that in the worst cases end in homicide.”

  22. Saadia A. Arslanturk says:

    She was an amazing young women. I am surprised her book is not available in English.. Perhaps we can translate it into Englsh and the money can be used to start organization in her name for acid attack victims. This is the only thing we can do for her now. looking forward to hearing back from you…

    • Saadia, thank you for commenting. I’m researching and waiting to see what might emerge about a translation of Il Volto Cancellato into English, and also a documentary. An organization in her name would be a way to honor her in perpetuity. I know there are organizations that help acid attack victims. If you find any discussion about a translation or documentary, or ways people will honor her life, please comment back.

    • Nicole says:

      I fully agree with you Saadia A. Arlanturk. This is such a powerful story and it is hard to think how many more stories exist just like this. Something needs to be done. I was searching for a book on Fakhra Younas and am now very sorry to hear that it is not in English. I think everyone needs to know what is happening to these women. I know that there is a documentary out there and I know it just received an Oscar, but I could not find any links for it.

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