“When I was with him, I thought nothing bad could ever happen to me,” she writes. Even before they married, she glimpsed an email to Weiner from a woman that struck her as inappropriate at best; but she moved forward anyway, despite other warning signs including her family’s evident lack of enthusiasm and her own teary outburst shortly before a small Islamic marriage ceremony. Abedin does not examine her disassociation from her own feelings, but she does describe it: Twice in the book, she recalls noticing that she was crying only after receiving other sensory input — hearing the sound of the sobs or detecting tears on her cheeks.
What Abedin does offer is an unflinching recitation of the blows to which she was subject: the polite but cold requests that she and her husband not show their faces at a social event or a food bank where they found solace volunteering; a humiliating and terrifying investigation from Children’s Services that threatened their custody of their young son; the confirmation, from close colleagues on Clinton’s campaign team, that yes, the late-breaking news pertaining to the emails on Weiner’s laptop — which were from Huma — could be decisive in a race that close.
The catalog of her Job-like suffering — the shame to which she was subject for actions other than her own — is at times excruciating to read; but it is as if in uttering those episodes aloud, she ensures that they do not own her. Huma still fascinates, not because of any lurid details she exposes but because her story serves as a parable, a blinking billboard of a reminder that no one is exempt from suffering. She is far from psychologically minded; but there is, somehow, something comforting in her refusal to find bright sides of the story or purport to share great wisdom as someone who is still standing despite it all. The only way out, she seems to say, was through, which is perhaps not original, but has the benefit of being true.
The book does sometimes suffer from Abedin’s apparent feeling that she cannot afford to seem less than saintly toward others. When she learns that colleagues on Clinton’s campaign team called for her removal, she says, “I didn’t blame anyone for how they felt and knew it must not have been easy on any of them.” Along with those staff members, Clinton, too, was disappointed that Abedin had given a press conference supporting her husband’s bid for mayor, even following more ugly revelations; but she called Abedin to her home to say she did not think Abedin should “pay a professional price for what was ultimately my husband’s mistake, not mine.”
Abedin, who is now divorced, reveals so much of her personal travails, but clearly would never have written a political tell-all, despite all she has to tell. Her memoir is an unburdening, an apology and an attempt at restitution. For all its darkness, it is also a gesture of gratitude.
Susan Dominus joined The Times as a Metro columnist in 2007. She has been a staff writer with The Times Magazine since 2011.
BOTH/AND: A Life in Many Worlds
By Huma Abedin
Illustrated. 544 pp. Scribner. $30.