Both/And Huma Abedin Simon & Schuster UK, €14.99
Who is Huma Abedin? She may be familiar as Hillary Clinton’s right-hand woman, who emerged into the spotlight when her husband, Anthony Weiner, ran for mayor of New York and then quickly fell from grace when he posted lurid photos online.
This memoir sheds light on the woman behind the scandals and takes readers into the Clinton machine, offering a tour of what supporters called “Hillaryland”. It also ponders to what extent Abedin’s doomed marriage may have influenced Trump’s 2016 election.
The daughter of an Indian father and Pakistani mother, brought up in Saudi Arabia and Kalamazoo, Michigan, Abedin was raised in a Muslim household full of diplomats, doctors and free thinkers. Her father established an international Institute for Muslim Minority Affairs, while her mother, also an academic, promoted women’s access to education and human rights.
Abedin’s own rise was exponentially swift. While still in college, she did an internship with Hillary during Bill Clinton’s presidency, which would shape the direction of her entire life.
Abedin’s cool beauty belies a self-effacing interior. Repeatedly she stresses she was more comfortable in the background, helping, assisting, supporting Clinton and others. But her prominence made privacy impossible.
Both/And is her attempt to convey how much the publicity hurt her modest, erudite Muslim family. Thoughtful and densely-packed with detail, the book is a defiant response to the tabloid headlines that surrounded Abedin and her husband, and it reclaims for its author a self-image of elegance and poise.
It records the extent to which politics swallows up the players’ personal lives. Abedin misses births, marriages and funerals, and learns about the death of a beloved uncle only when a friend writes to send condolences. She and her husband do not take a honeymoon, instead going on holiday after she learns she is pregnant. She passes her time relaxing in between checking her Blackberry and joining conference calls.
Abedin joins a call about Hillary’s travel programme an hour before giving birth.
Abedin’s workaholic life is one in which private and professional merge indistinguishably. Her friendship circle, in Washington and New York, is bedazzled with VIPs like Anna Wintour and Oscar de la Renta. He designed her wedding dress, and later told her: “If you had called me one night and told me you had murdered your husband, I would have come to help you hide the body. That is how much I love you.”
Abedin’s marriage unravelled over a two-year period, beginning when Weiner posted a photo of his genitals on Twitter. He had meant to send the image to a woman in a private message, but that hardly made things better. Abedin forgave him and they went to therapy but it happened again and again. Most damagingly, in the midst of Hillary’s presidential campaign, Weiner sent another woman a shot of himself in bed, semi-naked, with their young son asleep beside him, triggering not just massive press interest but a child-welfare investigation which raised the possibility that the couple would lose custody of their child.
The worst was yet to come, however. Weiner’s laptop, when confiscated, became implicated in the furore surrounding Hillary’s use of personal emails – which led Jim Comey to reopen his investigation just days before the 2016 election.
“No matter how hard I tried, whether it was to help Anthony, to threaten him, to sympathize with him, to ignore him, to throw him out of my house, it was impossible to move on,” Abedin writes.
“This man was going to ruin me, and now he was going to jeopardize HRC’s chances of winning the presidency, which would leave our country in the hands of someone dangerously unfit for the office.”
This particular scandal mirrors what Hillary went through when Huma had just begun working with her in 1998. Clinton is like a mother to Abedin, and supports her young aide unequivocally.
“Left unsaid,” Huma writes, “was her own experience, and the impossible position she had faced. She didn’t say anything about it, but she didn’t have to.”
Abedin’s relationship with her estranged husband remains in the “It’s complicated” category. At the book’s end, she thanks him for making her feel special, and for their son. “Perhaps because our moment of total bliss was so fleeting, it was all the more precious,” she suggests.
Weiner spent 15 months in prison after sending explicit messages to an underage girl. The former congressman now runs a company making recycled glass kitchen countertops, according to the New York Times.
Abedin is a complex figure – ambitious, vulnerable, defying stereotypes. Both/And is an account of being visible and performing womanhood on the crazed, polarised stage of American politics. It offers a glimpse of missed opportunities and the myriad explanations for Hillary’s loss, in which the investigation of those misplaced emails may well have played their part.