Intolerable: A Memoir of Extremes

Intolerable: A Memoir of ExtremesIn The S, 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 The Family Returned To Yemen, A Country That Was Then Culturally Isolated From The Rest Of The WorldAs 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 S And S The Differences Between His Life And Theirs Were Brought Into Sharp Relief By The Revolution In Egypt And The Civil War In YemenIntolerable 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 Intolerable is a powerful, timely and courageous memoir about the author s experiences growing up in the Middle East Yemen, then Lebanon, Egypt and back to Yemen , dealing with increasing social intolerance the rise of Islamic fundamentalism , his upper middle class family s plummeting social and economic status and his burgeoning homosexuality, which of course was taboo.Realizing he couldn t survive as a gay man there, Al Solaylee ingeniously found a way to get to England for graduate school Intolerable is a powerful, timely and courageous memoir about the author s experiences growing up in the Middle East Yemen, then Lebanon, Egypt and back to Yemen , dealing with increasing social intolerance the rise of Islamic fundamentalism , his upper middle class family s plummeting social and economic status and his burgeoning homosexuality, which of course was taboo.Realizing he couldn t survive as a gay man there, Al Solaylee ingeniously found a way to get to England for graduate school and then, through a bit of luck, applied to emigrate to Canada He dedicates the book to Toronto, for giving me what I ve been looking for a home Now a professor at Ryerson University and a former theatre critic for the national Globe and Mail disclosure we are friends, both having covered the theatre beat for different publications , the author effectively captures his sense of dislocation he wants to be loyal to his family he was the youngest of 11 children , and is obviously concerned for their well being, and yet he must be true to himself His sensitivity is keen, especially to his female siblings, who once wore miniskirts and bikinis at the beach and gradually saw their freedoms stripped away as they covered up their bodies with the burqa.Although not every member of his family comes alive how could they, with so many he does sketch out effective and moving portraits of his parents and their evolving relationship It s significant that the book opens with his mother, an illiterate shepherdess Her lack of education would become a wedge between her and her husband, a clever entrepreneur whose love of England stoked his future writer son s imagination But his mother also intuitively knows that her sensitive boy hasof a future abroad.There s lots of historical information about the changing developments in the Middle East, up to and including the significance of the Arab Spring movement, in which his now educated and underemployed nieces and nephews were involved One of the most fascinating elements of the book is seeing him chronicle his evolving sexual feelings, for Arab pop stars at first but then, gradually, Western ones It s amazing that he should have connected to gay icons like Barbra Streisand and Olivia Newton John at such a young age, and in such a different culture Is there something universally campy about them He also informs us that the idea of coming out is a Western phenomenon It doesn t apply in the Middle East But some questions remain what would have happened had he come out What were the implications We re given some information, rumours about people, butconcrete details would have helped In this context, the Western concept of post gay seems terribly flippant A coda or epilogue would have been interesting Surely after the publication of chapters of this book, available online, his family would have learned of his sexuality Was there any result Silence Recrimination Perhaps the author is being discreet and private, but the absence feels like a presence In addition, a stronger editor could have tightened some of the prose, ridding it of the occasional clich In one paragraph Al Solaylee tells us his mother cried for days on end and that his sisters breathed a sigh of relief for they knew they d follow in his footsteps Still, this is an important, necessary book about things we often take for granted family, freedom and the idea of home Finally getting underway with reading the books for this year s Canada Reads debates, my most favorite book event ever This year Canada Reads 2015 is all about books that can change perspectives, challenge stereotypes and illuminate issues I decided to read Intolerable first because of Yemen, a country I have a strange vicarious connection with On the surface the book seems to meet the theme s criteria change perspectives and challenge stereotypes Arab immigrants to the West face a lot of Finally getting underway with reading the books for this year s Canada Reads debates, my most favorite book event ever This year Canada Reads 2015 is all about books that can change perspectives, challenge stereotypes and illuminate issues I decided to read Intolerable first because of Yemen, a country I have a strange vicarious connection with On the surface the book seems to meet the theme s criteria change perspectives and challenge stereotypes Arab immigrants to the West face a lot of stereotypes but this book also deals with being gay in a society that doesn t condone it and illuminate issues what in the world is happening to Yemen and does the West have an obligation to help Butthis book fell flat for me This last chapter saved it for me, but otherwise I just didn t feel very engaged I thought the author was rather repetitive about things, which annoyed me I think it would have been a stronger book if he had interviewed his family so we could see his story from their perspective too, rather than him just telling us what he thought they thought We sometimes got their view of what happened to their family but not often enough This bothered me because the author is a journalist Their family story is truly a saga, but I don t think that really came through in this telling.Another reviewer also lamented the absence of Canada Toronto I agree Other than hearing how much he loves Toronto, we don t ever get a real sense of his transition to life there We go through some paces with himfinding a job, moving apartments, some lovers and a breakup briefly mentioned, but I did not think there was not enough there to create the contrast between life in North America and Yemen for me to really feel grabbed by his story Everything felt rather glossed over I imagine this book was incredibly difficult to write as a reader I wish he had truly shared that pain with me.I ll be curious to see how well this book gets defended but even without having read the other selections, I m doubtful this one will be selected as the one all of Canada should read The Story Behind the StoryThere is no doubt that Kamal Al Solaylee s new book Intolerable A Memoir of Extremes has all the elements of a fascinating biographical and socio historical epic a young boy growing up in an Arabic family in Yemen, Egypt, and Lebanon that gets caught up in the economic, religious, and political upheavals of the region over the past fifty years his fascination with the allure of western pop and artistic culture that is denigrated by family members and his society The Story Behind the StoryThere is no doubt that Kamal Al Solaylee s new book Intolerable A Memoir of Extremes has all the elements of a fascinating biographical and socio historical epic a young boy growing up in an Arabic family in Yemen, Egypt, and Lebanon that gets caught up in the economic, religious, and political upheavals of the region over the past fifty years his fascination with the allure of western pop and artistic culture that is denigrated by family members and his society a dawning sense of his gay sexual identify and his desperate struggle to liberate himself from the strictures of his upbringing so as to carve for himself a life in a different part of the world where he can pursue freely his intellectual and emotional aspirations Intolerable hopefully will be adapted for the screen some day It would make a great film.But I found myself drawn not so much to the dramatic narrative as to I m not sure what to call it the backstory or the subtext or the metastory I was profoundly moved by Al Solaylee s on going internal monologue as he struggles to understand what is happening to him and his world, grapples mightily with the limited options available to him to escape from what he finds so intolerable, and then, most poignantly, deals with the consequences of his decisions as they relate to his self induced separation from his family and cultural roots.This on going personal reflection by Al Solaylee about the psychological and ethical dimensions of his life choices is often heart wrenching for us as readers to witness While he is thrilled with the life that he eventually creates for himself in his new adopted home of Toronto, his enthusiasm is overlaid by two dampeners firstly, a persistent melancholy because of the suffering that his displacement has caused to his family, particularly his mother and his sisters, that is compounded by a deterioration in his family s quality of life as a result of the political upheavals in the region and secondly, an existential insecurity linked to his self identity as Arabic and his feelings about Arabic culture which fluctuate dramatically over the course of the story.To bear one s soul in public like Al Solaylee has done requires a great deal of guts It can also be cathartic.I speak from experience After my long term partner died suddenly from cancer, I wrote a memoir August Farewell in which I detailed the sixteen days between Bill s diagnosis and his death and integrated into the chronology vignettes from our thirty three years together as a gay couple Writing, for those of us who feel drawn to it, can help us make sense of the vicissitudes of life But of evenconsequence, at least for me, are the intimate conversations and depth of relationships with readers who respond to our soul bearing.My fondest wish for Kamal Al Solaylee is that he will find in having written and published Intolerable some measure of this gratification at both the personal and relational levels For information on Kamal Al Solaylee s Intolerable A Memoir of Extremes see For information on my memoir August Farewell see my website While the book was not exactly as bad a read as the first word of the title, and while I did learn a thing or two about Yemen and the unravelling of a vibrant open society, I felt like the author was bored while writing this memoir I was not engaged by his story, not interested in the familial relationships he described, because they all simply stayed on the page, two dimensional at best I m not sorry I read the book because it is part of CBC radio s Canada Reads contest in March , but I woul While the book was not exactly as bad a read as the first word of the title, and while I did learn a thing or two about Yemen and the unravelling of a vibrant open society, I felt like the author was bored while writing this memoir I was not engaged by his story, not interested in the familial relationships he described, because they all simply stayed on the page, two dimensional at best I m not sorry I read the book because it is part of CBC radio s Canada Reads contest in March , but I would not recommend this to someone looking for an engaging read I have very mixed feelings about this book, which I read for Canada Reads I felt like I learned a lot about Yemen and what it is like to grow up in the Middle East if you are gay That, to me, was the most interesting part of the book At times, I really disliked the narrator author I know that he had to leave, for his own reasons, and I don t begrudge him for that However, I felt that he was sometimes really harsh on his relatives and family members By the end of the book, he realizes tha I have very mixed feelings about this book, which I read for Canada Reads I felt like I learned a lot about Yemen and what it is like to grow up in the Middle East if you are gay That, to me, was the most interesting part of the book At times, I really disliked the narrator author I know that he had to leave, for his own reasons, and I don t begrudge him for that However, I felt that he was sometimes really harsh on his relatives and family members By the end of the book, he realizes that even though he tried to flee the Middle East, he wasn t able to So I am very conflicted in my feelings about this book, which means that I think it s a great pick for Canada Reads There s a lot to debate and discuss I don t think this book will win, and I think some of the other panellists will also have problems with the narrator author, because he doesn t come across as particularly likeable Ahhh..Kamal Komeath Al Solaylee..You are NOT a whiner When a person is able to live well..that may be selfish..so we all are selfish in that If you live well..then you are able to help others A miserable person can only enable others to stay miserable together.Thank you for your very personal story Thank you for coming full circle in your life When anyone wonders why so many people want to live in Canada..a quote from your story says it right..Quote Home at last I was Canadian now and p Ahhh..Kamal Komeath Al Solaylee..You are NOT a whiner When a person is able to live well..that may be selfish..so we all are selfish in that If you live well..then you are able to help others A miserable person can only enable others to stay miserable together.Thank you for your very personal story Thank you for coming full circle in your life When anyone wonders why so many people want to live in Canada..a quote from your story says it right..Quote Home at last I was Canadian now and proud of it I d reached my final destination after three decades of travelling and relocating, with my family and alone Not only that, but I was settling into a city that had given me so much in such a short time A HOME, A SOCIAL LIFE, A PARTNER AND ABOVE ALL A PLACE TO BE WHO I WAS WITHOUT FEAR, SHAME OR RISK OF LIFE Yes..without fear, shame or risk of life..what everyone would love to live Intolerable is the perfect name for this memoir It was intolerable for the author to live in repressive countries where homosexually was not allowed or even acknowledged Equally intolerable was the poverty and living condition in his birth country of Yemen before he left, especially for his mother and sisters living under very strict orthodox rules The personal story and the country story are both shared throughout The personal story is written in a sensitive, cathartic manner The intimacie Intolerable is the perfect name for this memoir It was intolerable for the author to live in repressive countries where homosexually was not allowed or even acknowledged Equally intolerable was the poverty and living condition in his birth country of Yemen before he left, especially for his mother and sisters living under very strict orthodox rules The personal story and the country story are both shared throughout The personal story is written in a sensitive, cathartic manner The intimacies and feelings shared are open and raw almost too much so At times I felt like a bit of a voyeur Not in a graphic or sexual way It is because the author shares his vulnerabilities, deepest feelings and intimate thoughts with such abandon and without the usual boundaries Sometimes I felt like I was intruding into too private a space.This memoir had sort of a dual personality For me the book shifted back and forth between very raw and open to very clinical and informational As a result, it touched me and I also learned a lot The author, Kamal Al Kaman, is the youngest of 11 children born in Yemen His story starts with his early years growing up in a close knit, well to do family His father was a business man, who spent time in England and valued Western ways He encouraged freedom and education for his entire family, including his many daughters Al Kaman s mother grew up in a rural village, was smart and resourceful, loving and devoted to caring for her family and home Theirs was a cosmopolitan, modern family that frequented the arts, read a great deal, liked American music, movies and magazines and flew regularly to other countries for family vacations Al Kaman estimates that in less than twenty years from the 50 s through the 70 s things radically changed throughout the Middle East, but especially in Yemen as orthodox beliefs or Radical Islam becameprevalent, powerful and controlling His sisters went from wearing bikinis on summer vacations and shopping with their girlfriends for the latest fashions and cosmetics to home confinement and wearing burqas that fully covered them whenever they left home with their required male chaperone What made this especially sad was that much of these restrictions were imposed by their own brothers, first one, and then another, who adopted and enforced these radical fundamentalist rules.Most of the sisters, who were of working age, had previously held excellent jobs due to their university education, but as the Middle East becamefundamentalist, they found themselves dismissed from work due to their sex in addition to the overall decline of jobs all around They were left without any means to support themselves or their families The story of the country and one family from wealth to poverty, from cosmopolitan cities to village hovels without water was a contrast so great and a poverty so staggering, it helped me understand viscerally what I had read about and intuited before poverty is what has fuelled much of the controlling fundamentalism and anti American sentiments in the Middle East.Al Kaman spent his childhood, teen and young adult years in Yemen, Lebanon and Egypt and back to Yemen His experiences give readers a flavour of the Middle East and the changes that have occurred I already knew that Yemen wasright wing than many other Middle Eastern countries, but the author really brought this home in his memoir and suggested it was in large part due to its close ties with the similarly orthodox country of Saudi Arabia Intolerable is primarily a personal memoir about coming of age and coming out As a young boy, Al Kaman is aware of his attraction to males but keeps it a secret His culture and environment is so repressed that he has no idea if anyone else like himself even exists Al Kaman s desire to experience 100% of who he is, was so strong, that while in Egypt and Lebanon, he finds opportunities to participate in the gay scene and has his first same sex experience He finds this experience so liberating that he knows he can no longer stay in Yemen, despite having to leave his entire family He moves first to England and later to Canada where is now a Canadian citizen, author and professor in the city of Toronto.The book is quite a journey Al Kaman s sharing and development from a young boy to a proud, out there gay man, driven by a strong desire for freedom is at times heartbreaking and at times inspirational His drive and liberation are admirable His controlled emotions and at times apparent heartlessness with regards to leaving his family behind, particularly his aging mother, seems rather cold and without compassion but these actions illustrated for me what no words could that the yearning to be true to oneself and love oneself is one of the fundamental needs of being human He did it to survive, to save himself His memoir helped me understand not just intellectually but in my gut that to be gay isn t a choice It s a fundamental essence from birth I hope his message reaches manyreaders.Al Kaman s story is both sad and happy Happy for him that he came of age, became free and lives in a country he loves The story of his sisters, the rest of his family and his country is very sad indeed It taught me a great, deal about the hardships of average Yemenis particularly women and how radical the cultural and economic changes have been in such a very short time With the current regime, the future seems bleak but Al Kaman sees the bright side in the recent uprisings across the Middle East as sees them signs of hope for a return to freedom for all.I recommend reading Intolerable for a very personal perspective on the Middle East and being gay in a very dominant heterosexual world It s a moving, honest, very open and educational memoir Kamal Al Solaylee s Intolerable A Memoir of Extremes takes place over 35 years, five countries, three continents, and considerable social upheaval It is a story of a different culture, of repeated immigrations, and of feeling unsafe physically and psychologically It is a story of struggle and rising above In Intolerable Al Solaylee rejects his first home, finds another, but then rediscovers love for that first family and culture.Al Solaylee discovered early that he was gay in a society tha Kamal Al Solaylee s Intolerable A Memoir of Extremes takes place over 35 years, five countries, three continents, and considerable social upheaval It is a story of a different culture, of repeated immigrations, and of feeling unsafe physically and psychologically It is a story of struggle and rising above In Intolerable Al Solaylee rejects his first home, finds another, but then rediscovers love for that first family and culture.Al Solaylee discovered early that he was gay in a society that didn t offer a name for who or what he was, in a place where he discovered that he could expect stoning or flogging if he were found out Nonetheless, he found a surprising amount of support within his family The whole coming out scene the Mom, Dad, I have something to tell you scenario is part of the Western narrative of being gay My sisters in particular figured it out soon enough without me having to come out They dealt with it by either ignoring it or by telling extended family members to leave me alone whenever any of them suggested a suitable bride.Intolerable reveals that what it means to be gay in one culture is both similar to and different from that of other cultures.What would you give up to be free Some of us would prioritize such freedom, while others would not This is a central theme throughout Intolerable, as Al Solaylee describes what he did to be allowed to live freely as a gay man giving up family, home, culture, and lover He traveled to England to pursue a PhD in English primarily for the extra time abroad and associated global mobility, rather than academe being his first love.Freedom with poverty meantto me than money without personal choice I saw things like position and home comforts as Middle Eastern values that could get in the way of this new life in Toronto if I let them.It was difficult reading Intolerable without wondering about those girls and boys, men and women who don t have the financial, social, and psychological resources to survive under such conditions or other difficult ones Al Solaylee s sisters bikini clad and mini skirted as teens had fewer resources of some sorts and faced different barriers They moved to hijabs, burkas, and prayer to cope with the sexism, social unrest, and cultural instability in Egypt and then Yemen From Al Solaylee s point of view, his sisters lowered their sights and became isolated and depressed Initially, Al Solaylee scrambled to save himself, distancing himself from his family and culture by any means possible, only later describing himself as selfish By the end of Intolerable, Al Solaylee found himself identifying with his family and obsessively searching the internet for news of Yemen, in general, and Sana a, in particular.My Lebanese friends who have escaped the civil war in that country but left family members behind tell me that I ll get used to this feeling of helplessness and guilt I don t know what to make of it Does anyone ever accept that his family is suffering and living in the middle of a war zone A sense of safety reprioritizes one s values and, to some degree, identities Intolerable, liberally sprinkled with photos from Al Solaylee s life in the Middle East, gives us a safe place to consider who we are, what we value, and how we choose to live In a time of increasing polarization, it also gives us a sympathetic, albeit often critical window onto the Middle East Continuing to make my way through CANADA READS 2015 nominees, I found Intolerable A Memoir of Extremes to be the least impressive read to date Kamal Al Solaylee s memoir details his struggles to come to terms with his homosexuality in Yemen as it coincides with extremist Islam changing his country, family and ultimately leading to his immigration to Canada While Al Solaylee s story is undoubtably harrowing and provides a strong tale of an immigrant finding his place in the multicultural qu Continuing to make my way through CANADA READS 2015 nominees, I found Intolerable A Memoir of Extremes to be the least impressive read to date Kamal Al Solaylee s memoir details his struggles to come to terms with his homosexuality in Yemen as it coincides with extremist Islam changing his country, family and ultimately leading to his immigration to Canada While Al Solaylee s story is undoubtably harrowing and provides a strong tale of an immigrant finding his place in the multicultural quilt of Canada where he is free to express his sexuality, the actual read is a bit of a slog The majority of the story bounces back between Al Solaylee s narration of his journey as he comes to terms with the intolerable SEE WHAT I DID THERE conditions in which he has left his family I found the passages detailing his sisters progression from being able to exist in a secular country with complete freedom afforded to them to the oppressive and misogynistic Yemen of today to be the most powerful sections, but the rest sort of falls flat There is an attempt to interweave the historical events in Yemen to Al Solaylee s personal journey, and they are largely a mixed bag On occasion his historical account resonates with his personal or familial struggles, at other times it makes you slog through a long and drawn out bit of exposition Another issue I had with the book was that so little of it focuses on the time Al Solaylee spends in Canada that it seems as if there are gaps in the story I wish we had spenttime learning about how he adapts to life in Canada, what changes, what stays the same What does work really well is the conclusion of the book, which forces Al Solaylee to come to terms with his freedom while his family lives in a war zone The idea that this is a living eulogy for the lives his family continue to live is a powerful statement, so it is a shame the rest of the book doesn t operate towards the same goal, meandering from its thesis, taking away from the true punch it should pack Of all the nominees I have read thus far, this was my least favourite, but due to its subject matter may make for a solid contender This one s just okay folks Kamal Al Solaylee has written a haunting, no nonsense autobiography whose main protagonist is a shared union of mother and son A Janus like tale in that the reader is invited to see through the eyes of extremely literate, educated Arab male whose sexuality in his country of heritage would judge as blasphemous and subversive, if not criminal At the same time, the author sketches the life of a culturally conforming, illiterate matron of incredible strength and resilience His mother, Safia is a Kamal Al Solaylee has written a haunting, no nonsense autobiography whose main protagonist is a shared union of mother and son A Janus like tale in that the reader is invited to see through the eyes of extremely literate, educated Arab male whose sexuality in his country of heritage would judge as blasphemous and subversive, if not criminal At the same time, the author sketches the life of a culturally conforming, illiterate matron of incredible strength and resilience His mother, Safia is a heroine whose story will suffuse beneath the skin of women everywhere whose love of family provides them with great mental strength.Transported through the Arabic peninsula, the Levant, Egypt and Canada, because of family migrations, Kamal describes contrasts and conflicts internal and external that most Canadians find unfathomable The kinds of political, economic and religious upheavals his family endured are not the standard experiences of Canadians Homosexuality, although still facing obstacles to recognition that makes it simple one of a variety of sexual orientation norms, does not entail the danger that it would in the Middle East Oppression of women is not eradicated, but certainly is much less blatant or acceptable The choices women have in Canada are astounding when contrasted with the restrictions found in many other parts of the world Kamal knows this, but his story reminds us that we need to KNOW this Kamal s experience, sexual orientation and education is a fascinating vista to which to view a Middle Eastern upbringing, as he is both an atypical ethnographic informant, as well as interpretive ethnographer.The story of Kamal s family goes from bad to foreboding to spiritually annihilating The strong survivor in me is glad for Kamal for getting out of Yemen and the social, political and religious changes that took the family from a form of liberal secularism to a brutal, soul killing and uncompromising form of religion that likely would have taken Kamal s life, one way or another The feminist in me emotionally condemns him for not trying to help his sisters escape a world that would slowly swallow the joy from their lives, although how he could have accomplished this is unknown to me Sometimes people don t believe there is a way out of a bad situation even when alternatives are presented let alone when opportunities are exiguous to non existent.It is a hard story to read and, no doubt, was difficult to write This is not precisely a triumphant story of immigrant success, even when Kamal realizes that he has found home in Toronto Inasmuch as his life in Canada is fulfilling, his story is heartbreaking because ultimately it is a story of a kind of exhaustion of optimism Nevertheless, it is a book that I would highly recommend.The best quote of the book for me was it would be another tens years at least before I could sing along to a full Tom Jones record And to be perfectly honest, I wasinterested in the albums because of Jones s sexy poses on the covers Glittery tight pantsuits and a sexy swagger Humperdinck always looked like a dork in comparison Thanks to my mother s love of both singers when I was a very young girl, I could also make the comparison, and I couldn t agree with him

[Reading] ➰ Intolerable: A Memoir of Extremes ➸ Kamal Al-Solaylee – Jobs-in-kingston.co.uk
  • Hardcover
  • 204 pages
  • Intolerable: A Memoir of Extremes
  • Kamal Al-Solaylee
  • English
  • 06 September 2017
  • 1554688868