A Memoir of Extremes

Book - 2012
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In the 1960s, Kamal Al-Solaylee's father was one of the wealthiest property owners in Aden, in the south of Yemen, but when the country shrugged off its colonial roots, his properties were confiscated, and the family was forced to leave. The family moved first to Beirut, which suddenly became one of the most dangerous places in the world, then Cairo. After a few peaceful years, even the safe haven of Cairo struggled under a new wave of Islamic extremism that culminated with the assassination of Anwar Sadat in 1981. The family returned to Yemen, a country that was then culturally isolated from the rest of the world.

As a gay man living in an intolerant country, Al-Solaylee escaped first to England and eventually to Canada, where he became a prominent journalist and academic. While he was enjoying the cultural and personal freedoms of life in the West, his once-liberal family slowly fell into the hard-line interpretations of Islam that were sweeping large parts of the Arab-Muslim world in the 1980s and 1990s. The differences between his life and theirs were brought into sharp relief by the 2011 revolution in Egypt and the civil war in Yemen.

Intolerable is part memoir of an Arab family caught in the turmoil of Middle Eastern politics over six decades, part personal coming-out narrative and part cultural analysis. This is a story of the modern Middle East that we think we know so much about.

Publisher: Toronto : HarperCollins Canada, [2012]
Copyright Date: ©2012
ISBN: 9781554688869
Characteristics: 204 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm


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Feb 12, 2017

Intolerable by Kamal Al-Solaylee is a memoir that details the author’s life experiences living in the Middle East from the 1960’s all the way to his life in the 2000’s living as a gay man in Toronto, Canada.

I rarely read non-fiction, unless it’s a required reading for school and probably only read this because it was on the Canada Reads 2015 Shortlist. The author has an incredible story to tell and I loved the last half of the book more than the first. What’s most interesting is the author realizing, as a young adult, the steps he needs to take if he wants to live somewhere more tolerant. I also loved that not only does the author touch on his own experiences and realizations, but he also delves a bit into the history of his parents and from times as a child that he wouldn’t remember, but his older siblings do. I personally found the writing ordinary and didn’t enjoy the introduction but this a great, short read for both the fiction and non-fiction reader. It’s a book that sheds a lot of light on the Middle East and great for informing the reader on things they might not have known or were ignorant of.

Nov 20, 2015

This account of childhood lived in an unstable part of the world, including the nascence of radical islamization and its influence on the whole region, also portrays a family caught in all the turmoil. From the Western-style intellectuals most of the family members devolve into devout Muslims with the men basking in their male superiority and the women losing their freedom. To be born a homosexual into such an environment is to be in constant danger of exemplary punishment if not death. Al Solaylee describes his ever-present anguish and his determination to find freedom from persecution. I give this book a 5-star rating for its information value.

Oct 26, 2015

Definitely surprised to find this written by a PHD in English...given the poor writing style, unnecessary repetitions and uneven editing.

I found this book a study of navel gazing by a narcissistic youngest child of a large family. Complaining of his father's lack of work, in his later life, and his living off his daughters' earnings; while the author appears to have done the same thing.

Interesting that the author is gay, and this would certainly be a challenge in such trying environments, whether the individual is Muslim or secular, but the whole story seemed unfocused, and like one long whine.

Also for someone calling themselves a Canadian journalist and at points an art writer and critic- the comments about his gratitude to Canada ring hollow, especially the comment : he so wanted to refocus his life as a Canadian, that he would even "watch made-in-Canada movies and TV dramas-most of which I found utterly cold and soulless, but at least they were Canadian". Huh?

Aug 29, 2015

Enjoyed this more than I expected to.

Apr 27, 2015

This is an extremely readable book. It gives meaning and understanding to the political situations in Beirut, Cairo and present day Yemen. It deepened my understanding of the rigid Muslim response to homosexuality. Read this book if you want to broaden your understanding of the Middle East, the subjugation of women there, and how this is entwined with the concept of family.

GSPLmandy Mar 16, 2015

A comprehensible look at the Middle East from the post-colonial era to the Arab Spring through the experiences of one family; An interesting and important story to be told.

Feb 02, 2015

Not a good choice for me. I found this book repetitive and unfocused. The author completely failed to gain my interest. If anything, I felt quite critical of him by the time I finished the book. The story did have one redeeming quality for me. It was helpful in understanding the rise of fundamental religion in the Middle East. It would have been best if he had just focused on that aspect of the book. A disappointing choice for Canada Reads.

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