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Intolerable by Kamal Al-Solaylee
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Intolerable

by Kamal Al-Solaylee

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659279,451 (3.84)24
Follows the life of Canadian journalist Kamal Al-Solaylee and his experiences living in the Middle East as a child in the 1960s with his itinerant family.

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» See also 24 mentions

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The author was born in Yemen in the 1960s. He was the youngest of 11 siblings and was only 3 years old when the family moved to Beirut (Lebanon), then not long after, they moved to Cairo (Egypt), where he spent his years growing up, and figuring out that he was gay. Most of the family eventually headed back to Yemen, but long before then, Kamal knew he had to get out of the Middle East. He yearned to go to England or the US, where he felt he would be able to be himself and not hide. He managed a scholarship to study in England, and from there, he eventually made his way to Canada.

This covered the 1960s (when the people of Yemen and Egypt were relatively free and not so constrained by religion) up to and including 2011. As Kamal yearned to leave, he hated to leave his mother and sisters behind, the way women were being treated by the time he got out. Some of his brothers had gone fervently religious, too much for Kamal’s liking. He tried to not look back on his life there, and even speaking to his family was difficult, as he was still hiding who he really was and it reminded him of how bad things were in the country he was born in. As things got worse in the Middle East, and in Yemen in particular with a civil war happening in 2011, he did seek out news from home.

This was really good. It was also very interesting, to read the cultural differences between the Middle Eastern countries he lived in and the Western countries. As a Canadian myself, it was really nice to see how accepted he was in Canada (Toronto, though I am from the West), regardless of his nationality and his sexual orientation. Completely not book-related, but as someone who has taken bellydance classes off and on, I had to take a brief break from reading to look up a famous Egyptian bellydancer his father hired to perform at one of his sisters’ weddings. ( )
  LibraryCin | Sep 6, 2019 |
I read this book as part of the Canada Reads Book of the month. We are reading the Canada Reads books. I was quite glad I picked this one up.

Kamal Al-Solaylee was the youngest of 11 children born to Yemeni parents. His father was a business man who was involved in real estate in Aden, Yemen. When the socialists took over, they lost all their property and were driven out. They ended up in Beruit, followed by Egypt. The family moved as racial tensions rose and unemployment for his siblings occurred. They finally ended up back in Northern Yemin in Sanaa'a. The story tells of the hardships and poverty the family and other Yemenis endured. Kamal, as a gay man, was also in fear all the time. His brothers began to embrace Islam and the freedom the family had in the past as a non-secular family was erased. Kamal eventually emigrated to Canada, where he wrote this book to connect with his roots, his family and to move forward in his life. Very touching and educating. ( )
  Carlathelibrarian | Feb 5, 2019 |
I've had this book on my to read list for awhile after hearing a bit of the praise for Canada Reads. The author is a professor living in Toronto retelling his life and coming to terms with his family, background and sexual identity. A lot of the book discusses the hardships his family endures, the increasing conservatism that takes over and his struggle with finding his place and understanding what it means to be a gay man.

That's pretty much the book in a nutshell. Not being extremely familiar with Yemen and Egypt it was interesting to read his POV about both countries and their changes as he grows up. It was tough to read up on how isolated he felt as a gay youth (in retrospect he thinks he began having homoerotic feelings at the age of 5) and then young man in a society where he could be punished severely if caught.

Unfortunately it's not a good read. His story is fascinating and interesting. But he's not a very good writer/was there no editor for this book? I certainly wasn't bothered by his discussion of his sexuality as other reviewers were (do people understand how dangerous it could have been for the author?) but the writing is not compelling. He talks a bit about self-loathing here and there and I can't help but wonder if that's filtering through his writing.

I also had to side-eye the text a bit. He describes what appears to be a mutual masturbation encounter in an elevator with an acquaintance (who is 20-21) at the time and a few pages later he describes himself as a fourteen year old. Because of the writing I'm not sure if the author was that age when he has that encounter but he writes about it (it's also his first sexual experience) as if there's nothing wrong with it. I understand that he was confused (he felt ashamed about ejaculating since he had very little knowledge) but as the other person was definitely an adult I found the author's writing on this a bit creepy. Even if it appears nothing else happened and Al-Solaylee was actually grateful because it taught him that masturbation, ejaculation, etc. was nothing to be ashamed of it I found the passages a little odd.

Overall it was interesting but I wish my library had a copy instead of buying it as a bargain book. I think it was worth the read to see his experiences in his own words on coming to terms with his sexuality in a society that isn't (perhaps that has changed, if only a bit?) very accepting of it. And despite the subject matter that I wrote about above, his discussions about his sexual encounters are not very detailed or graphic and it's more about his emotional development. It wasn't worth the hype though. ( )
  acciolibros | Feb 11, 2018 |
A beautifully-written memoir that explores the author's childhood in the Middle East, the increasing influence of conservatism and political instability on his daily life, his immigration to Canada, and his experiences as a gay man. Caught between his home in the West and his family's home in Yemen, Kamal Al-Solaylee explores identity and belonging in this compelling book. ( )
  bucketofrhymes | Dec 13, 2017 |
Great memoir! ( )
  Kimmyd76 | Jun 29, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
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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