She became a best-selling author in the same league as J. Rowling and Michael Moore. She petitioned the United Nations personally, was published in 15 countries, and Australians voted her memoir into their favourite books of all time. But Norma Khouri is a fake, and so is Forbidden Love.
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She became a best-selling author in the same league as J. Rowling and Michael Moore. She petitioned the United Nations personally, was published in 15 countries, and Australians voted her memoir into their favourite books of all time. But Norma Khouri is a fake, and so is Forbidden Love. With Australian sales approaching ,, the book told of her lifelong friendship with a girl named Dalia in Amman, Jordan. In their 20s, Khouri wrote, she and Dalia started a hairdressing salon together.
Dalia met and fell in love with Michael, a Christian army officer. When their chaste affair was discovered, Dalia was murdered - stabbed 12 times - by her father. Norma fled Jordan to Athens, where she said she wrote her book in internet cafes, and ultimately to Australia, where her publisher Random House sponsored her for a temporary residence visa.
Advertisement Khouri, now 34, spent much of retelling this story, reducing listeners to tears and anger, in interviews, book festivals, bookshops and other events. She toured the world with the story, from appearing on network television in the US to being selected for a citywide book club in Adelaide. While making her new home at a secret location in Queensland and fearing for her life, Khouri became a standard-bearer for oppressed Arab women and triggered a publishing trend of similar books.
She has a US passport and lived from until in Chicago. She is married with two children, 13 and She has four American siblings and a mother who are desperate to hear news from her. But she has managed to conceal this double life from her publishers, her agent, lawyers in several continents, the Australian Department of Immigration and, until now, the public.
Her mother, Asma, remembers her estranged daughter as a girl who "kept deep secrets". Khouri has misled the world both on the page and in person. Suspicion first arose in Jordan, where readers posted on websites their belief that so much in the book was inaccurate, its factual basis was in doubt.
She denied she had ever lived in America, nor been there before a publicity tour in She said the records were "planted" to trick the Jordanian Government into giving her travel documents to escape.
Subsequently, the Herald discovered records of Chicago real estate transactions listing Norma and John Toliopoulos as husband and wife.
Visiting the addresses this month, however, the Herald found members of her family, neighbours and acquaintances who remembered Norma from her 27 years in Chicago, from age three to Her year-old mother keeps dozens of photos of the daughter who disappeared in and has not spoken to her since.
Asked how she coped with living secretly, Khouri once said: "It is very stressful and tiring, and I would not recommend it to anyone. Yesterday the Herald put the results of its investigation to Khouri, and she continued to deny she had an American family. Despite the photos, interviews with family and acquaintances, public records of vehicle and real estate ownership and a US marriage, she said her mother, Asma, lived in Jordan.
And it would be nice to have him be proud of me some day, instead of ashamed of me. Majid and Asma separated in and he returned to Jordan. They divorced in Aside from a handful of emails sent to Diana, Norma has not contacted her family since she left Chicago suddenly about four years ago, at the time she began to write Forbidden Love. Until then, Norma lived a comparatively unremarkable suburban Chicago life, finishing her secondary education at a Catholic school before "studying computers", her mother says, for four years.
She worked in a range of low-paying jobs before meeting John Toliopoulos, a Greek-American who, according to Illinois motor vehicle records, drove a Chevrolet Celebrity. They had a daughter, Zoe, in , and a son, Christopher, in Norma and John married on November 27, , in Chicago. Jordanian authorities state that Norma was issued with a US passport, valid for 10 years, in Chicago on March 26, - the time when, according to Forbidden Love, Dalia was murdered and Norma feared persecution for opposing the honour killing.
Will Bagain said that around Norma and John moved into a house in Major Street, in a working-class suburb in south-west Chicago. The men clashed, and Will was kicked out. Although the circumstances are in dispute, Will was convicted for a firearms possession offence in and given a probationary sentence, court records show.
For a time Norma lived across the road from her mother in Long Street. However, Toliopoulos and his family are not remembered so fondly among the Bagains. Norma began to drift away from her family after meeting Toliopoulos. Steve was crazy, thought he was God.
Norma sold insurance, according to her brother, then enrolled in a bartending school. She drove a Nissan Sentra. Nobody knew her as a writer, although she owned a laptop and wrote on it, mostly poems, secretively. Then she, her husband and their children abruptly disappeared. Then they came back for a while, but then they went again. One day she was there, the next she was gone. They hurt me big. I miss them so much. But Norma always kept deep secrets.
She kept things to herself. She wrote the book and submitted it piecemeal to Christy Fletcher, a highly reputable New York literary agent. She subsequently sold it to 16 publishers around the world, and it was comprehensively vetted by lawyers for Viacom in the US and Transworld in Britain. Having sold the lie, she came to Australia, enjoyed a rapturous welcome from readers, and continued to act out the fabrication.
The Herald contacted Norma Khouri about these allegations earlier this year. She denied she had ever lived in America. She said: "Yes, I have paperwork that shows that I was married to [Toliopoulos]. To get out, I had to show I was married to a foreigner in a foreign country I have never had an American passport. She repeatedly denied that she had ever lived in the US or had any children. She said: "I stand by what I wrote. I refute the allegations that you are making, and had I been given more ample time I would have supplied proof.
I intend to do so in the future. Its title is A Matter of Honour.
Early life[ edit ] Khouri was born in Jordan in , and moved to Chicago in the United States with her parents in She attended a Catholic school in South Chicago. In she married John Toliopoulos, the father of her two children, Zoe and Christopher. In about , Khouri, Toliopoulos and their children moved to Australia , from where she published a non-fiction account of the honour killing of her best friend in Jordan.
Bestseller's lies exposed