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published: May 2012


A Memoir of Extremes

by Kamal Al-Solaylee

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personal memoirs
0 of 5
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also available: Hardcover Paperback
published: May 2012

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.

About the Author

Kamal Al-Solaylee, an associate professor at the School of Journalism at Ryerson University, was previously a distinguished writer at Canada’s national newspaper The Globe and Mail. Al-Solaylee also worked at Report on Business magazine and has written features and reviews for the Toronto Star, National Post, The Walrus, Toronto Life, Chatelaine, eye weekly, the Literary Review of Canada and Elle Canada. Al Solaylee’s bestselling memoir Intolerable was a finalist for the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Nonfiction Prize, the Lambda Literary Award, and Canada Reads, and won the Toronto Book Award. Brown is a finalist for the Governor General's Award for Literary Non-fiction. Al-Solaylee holds a PhD from the University of Nottingham and has taught at the University of Waterloo and York University. Al-Solaylee lives in Toronto.

Author profile page >
  • , OLA Evergreen Award
  • , Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Non-Fiction
  • , CBC Canada Reads
  • , Amazon.ca Best Book of the Year
  • , Lambda Literary Award
  • , Globe and Mail Best Book of the Year
Editorial Reviews

“An astounding read.”

— <em>Canada AM</em>

“An important and captivating read.”

— <em>Xtra!</em>

“Intolerable brings [Al-Solaylee’s] skill as a cultural analyst to the spiritual ailments of the Arab world. . . . Powerful, heartfelt . . . necessary reading for anyone who cares about Canada’s place in the world.”

— <em>The Walrus</em>

“[An] inspiring story. . . . Al-Solaylee captuers the historical moment in a way that’s real and compelling.”

— <em>In Toronto</em>

“A heartbreaking memoir of a man out of place and time. Tracing the Middle East through the 1980s and ‘90s, this is a personal coming-out narrative with a difference.”

— <em>The Sun Times</em> (Owen Sound)

“Here is a courageous personal history, all the more powerful for what it asks of every reader: What would you have done?”

— Wayson Choy, author of <em>All That Matters</em>

“Kamal Al-Solaylee has written a powerful memoir that will lift your spirits and break your heart.”

— Margaret Wente

“[A] touching account of a gay man’s journey to self-awareness. . . . The story gains in poignancy against the backdrop of a Middle East beset by conflict, economic decline and the rise of political Islam.”

— Literary Review of Canada

“A bulls-eye of individual truth telling as well as an apt and timely metaphor . . . a moving and wrenching reminder of the urgent need for integrity.”

— <em>Lambda Literary</em>

“I don’t think you’ll find a more painfully honest memoir on the bookshelves.”

— <em>Inside the News with Peter Mansbridge</em>

“A beguiling memoir. . . . I’ve read many books on Islam and the Arab world, but none with the intimacy and emotional weight of this one. . . . An immigrant tale, a queer history, a geopolitical lesson, and above all, it’s a love story.”

— Stephanie Nolen, author of <em>28: Stories of AIDS in Africa</em>

“A brilliant and utterly mesmerizing memoir. . . . The book is informative and emotionally satisfying and a credit to Al-Solaylee’s heart-baring skill. It is enthralling, entertaining and a must-read.”

— <em>Fab Magazine</em>

“Enlightening and heartbreaking.”

— <em>Ottawa Review of Books</em>

“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.”

— <em>The Globe and Mail</em>

“[A] Forthright and engaging memoir.”

— <em>Quill & Quire</em>

“Despite its light-hearted tone, this beguiling memoir tells an intensely emotional story of one family’s eroded dreams. . . . Unembellished and heartbreaking.”

— Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust jury citation

“A fascinating personal story and a history of a once-liberal family transformed by the politics and turmoil of the Middle East.”

— <em>The Next Chapter</em>, CBC Radio

“This is [a book] about survival and identity on many levels. The whole story is so singular and unlike any biography I have ever read. I could not put it down.”

— <em>Maclean’s</em>

“An emotionally powerful read.”

— <em>Critical Stages</em>

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Reader Reviews

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Amazing Memoir

I just finished reading this book and I can't stop thinking about it. He is an excellent writer with a really unique and soft, real voice. We don't blame him, we just feel for him as he identifies with the struggles of being a gay man, who immigrated to Canada, but at the same time, not really know how he got there, and not be too sure how to feel about the family that he left behind. I really enjoyed it, so much so that I wanted to go to Toronto and ask Kamal to hang out, perhaps walk our dogs together.
We come from two very different worlds, but somehow he has managed to feel like a kindred spirit.

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