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Intolerable by Kamal Al-Solaylee


by Kamal Al-Solaylee

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Great memoir! ( )
  Kimmyd76 | Jun 29, 2015 |
One of the good things about Canada Reads is that it brings to my attention Canadian books that would otherwise escape my attention. I am really glad that this book was one of the ones nominated for the finals in 2015 because I found it a fascinating tale.

Kamal Al-Solaylee was the youngest child of 11 raised by an Anglophile Muslim man and an illiterate former shepherdess. Kamal's father was a real estate tycoon in Aden and his family had many luxuries. That all came crashing down after the British pulled out of Yemen and the family had to move to Beirut. Refusing to believe that the loss of his income-producing properties was permanent Kamal's father installed the family in a large and expensive apartment. Then sectarian violence forced the family to leave and they went to Cairo. Some money from bank accounts in England was available but with rising costs it was necessary for the older children to go to work and help support the family. Cairo at this time was a moderate community and the young women in the family wore makeup, went out on their own and even posed in bikinis when they went to beaches on the Mediterranean. The oldest son was the first convert to fundamentalism--he went to prayers 5 times a day, thought women should be covered from head to toe and wanted to move back to Yemen. Slowly but surely changes occurred in how the women dressed and where they went and eventually it was decided to move to Sana'a in Yemen. The author, having realized his sexual preference was other men, feared returning to Yemen because the punishment for being gay was flogging or death. He had no choice but to return for a while but he did manage to get a scholarship to an English university to study English literature. That was the start of his freedom from the fundamentalism sweeping Arab nations. He saw his parents and siblings forced to make changes to their lifestyle which was particularly hard for the females. As a momma's boy it was difficult for him to turn his back on his mother but he knew it was the only way he could survive. Although he deprecates his scholarly accomplishments Kamal has a Master's degree and a Ph. D. in English literature.

He felt he had to immigrate to a country where his religion, nationality and sexuality would not be a problem. Australia, New Zealand, USA and Canada were all acceptable to him but Canada gave him the easiest time so he moved to Toronto. The dedication of the book is:
"To Toronto, for giving me what I've been looking for: a home."

I am always fascinated by learning the stories of people who immigrate to Canada. It was a long time ago that my ancestors came here and I have never known what propelled them. This book is one story only but it presents an interesting perspective. ( )
1 vote gypsysmom | May 5, 2015 |
Just finished a book for bookclub, [intolerable A Memoir of Extremes] by [[Kamal Al-Solaylee]]. It is one of the books selected for this years Canada Reads book elimination . Off the top, I don't seem to be attracted to memoirs except those that if are funny and clever i.e. [Bossypants] by [[Tina Fey]], or [[Nora Ephron's]] wonderful books. Clearly this book is not funny so that was a bit of a strike against it. It is the story of a man telling his family and personal story of moves from Aden, Yemen to Beirut to Cairo back to Yemen this time Sana'a then to England for an M.A. and PhD then to Toronto where he remains. The period is 70's through to 2011. He is attached to a very large family but effortfully pursueing independence from them and sorting his sexuality as a gay man in countries where this is very difficult.
The story is immersed in his single minded focus, and looks at the contrast of the Muslim and Western world. In his story he portrays the huge deterioration of rights for woman in these countries over the time described which is extremely uncomfortable (horrifying) for me. The family in Yemen experiences decline medically, in physical and mental health, and economically as the family tries to hold together. His mother is often depicted as a "slave" to the kitchen feeding 13 people and illiterate. This is mentioned over and over and I felt she was never given the respect that she was due. The women live in the shadows and are subservient which is a world that I find extremely offensive.

p.. 120 The gender apartheid operated outside and inside with equal rigour.
  mdoris | Mar 5, 2015 |
This is a coming-of-age memoir by a Muslim man growing up in Yemen, Egypt and Lebanon. His life is shaped by the rising of fundamentalist Islam, and by the fact that he is gay. He watches the freedoms his family once enjoyed disappear over time, especially for his sisters, as attitudes towards women harden. He fears for his own ability to live as a gay man in such a society.

The author talks about the growing distance -- physical and emotional -- between him and his family as he pursues studies in England and employment in Canada. He writes with brutal honesty about his feelings, including those that could be perceived as selfish. Yet, I often sensed a certain distance or lack of passion in the writing that had me working to maintain my sympathy for the author and the real challenges he faced. I need to think more about this one! ( )
1 vote LynnB | Feb 22, 2015 |
This memoir from journalist and university professor Al-Solaylee is on the 2013 Ontario Library Association's Evergreen list and is about his experiences growing up in the Middle East. He documents the stark contrast between the liberal and cosmopolitan society of his childhood, where women were comfortable wearing bikinis and Western films were popular, and the oppressive environment that developed as the religious fundamentalists took control.
In this well-paced and very readable memoir, the author talks honestly about his experiences and feelings, and in particular, the fears and frustrations related to his being a homosexual in a country where this could result in imprisonment or even execution. He acknowledges that the situation is even more difficult for his sisters, whose freedoms had been curtailed even more drastically.

Al-Solaylee describes how he escaped Yemen, continued his education in England and eventually settled in Canada. My favourite line in the book is the following. On contemplating his lack of material wealth during his first years in Canada, he writes, "I could live well as a poor man in Toronto because my life was enriched by many other things: from public libraries to public broadcasting to the many parks and free art galleries." Many of us who grew up in North America never lacked such things and take them for granted. Al-Solaylee, who did not have these riches and freedoms in his youth, reminds me of how lucky we are. ( )
3 vote mathgirl40 | Oct 5, 2013 |
Showing 5 of 5
Al-Solaylee tells his family’s story in a basic, no-nonsense style, which turns out to be a perfect counterpoint to the intricate twists and turns in each chapter. He lucidly illustrates the evolution of the region – or devolution, as he sees it – through the eyes of someone who felt forced to remove himself from it entirely....Intolerable crosses so many lines of identity as to make a reader’s head spin: class, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, religion and degrees of religious observance. This beautiful book about a family’s tortured relationship to history – and a region’s fraught relationship to modernity – is everything a great memoir should be: It’s as moving as it is complex.
his forthright and engaging memoir. A gifted storyteller, he exposes his own soul-searching in this very readable account of his family’s life in various Middle Eastern locations, beginning with his parents’ arranged marriage in 1945....Al-Solaylee writes well, and Intolerable is finely tuned. Deftly interweaving the personal and the political, and covering more than 50 years of Middle Eastern history, this memoir is anything but nostalgic.
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To Toronto, for giving me what I've been looking for:  a home.
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I am the son of an illiterate shepherdess who was married off at fourteen and had eleven children by the time she was thirty-three.
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