Drawing on extensive reporting from around the world and astute political analysis, Return: Why We Go Back to Where We Come From illuminates a personal quest. Kamal Al-Solaylee, author of the bestselling and award-winning Intolerable: A Memoir of Extremes and Brown: What Being Brown in the World Today Means (for Everyone), yearns to return to his homeland of Yemen, now wracked by war, starvation and daily violence, to reconnect with his family. Yemen, as well as Egypt, another childhood home, call to him, even though he ran away from them in his youth and found peace and prosperity on the calm shores of Toronto.
In Return, Al-Solaylee interviews dozens of people who have chosen to or long to return to their homelands, from the Basques to the Irish to the Taiwanese. The author does make a return of sorts himself, to the Middle East, visiting Israel and the West Bank as well as Egypt to meet up with his sisters. His Arabic stilted and his mannerisms foreign, Al-Solaylee finds that the English language and Western customs are now his only cultural currency.
Return is a chronicle of love and loss, of global reach and personal desires. It sets the narrative of going home against geopolitical forces that are likely to shape the rest of this century and beyond. It’s a book for anyone who has ever wondered what it would be like to return to their roots.
About the author
Kamal Al-Solaylee is the author of the national bestselling memoir Intolerable: A Memoir of Extremes which won the 2013 Toronto Book Award and was a finalist for the CBC’s Canada Reads, the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction and the Edna Staebler Award for Creative Nonfiction. His second book, Brown: What Being Brown in the World Today Means (to Everyone), was hailed as "brilliant" by The Walrus magazine and "essential reading" by the Globe and Mail. It was a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Awards for Nonfiction, the Trillium Book Award and won the Writers' Trust Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing. He was previously a theatre critic at the Globe and Mail and has written reviews and features on arts and politics for all major Canadian publications, including Toronto Star, National Post, The Walrus, Toronto Life, Elle Canada, Quill & Quire and Literary Review of Canada. He’s a two-time nominee for the National Magazine Awards, winning a Gold Medal in 2019 for columns. He holds a PhD in English and is a professor of journalism at Ryerson University in Toronto.
"A contemplative work on the passage of time, the aspirations of the exiled, loss, and the complexity of return. A beautifully written, emotionally charged, and politically fierce work."
Rawi Hage, author of <em>De Niro's Game </em>and<em> </em><em>Beirut Hellfire Society</em>
“Return is an inquiry of the first importance because it asks, among other questions: Does your adopted home deserve you? Far too often the question is framed the other way around. Al-Solaylee’s work here is thoughtful, humane, and timely.”
Gil Adamson, author of <em>Ridgerunner</em>
"Where do you want to be buried?' is a question that may perplex many of us. Humane and perceptive, Kamal Al-Solaylee uses his own ambivalence about returning 'home' as a backcloth to explore issues of identity, belonging, citizenship and nostalgia. He deftly interweaves personal interviews with academic research as he considers what connects diasporas to their homelands. In the twenty-first century ebb and flow of populations, the Important questions he raises will resonate for many of us. This is an original and provocative book."
Charlotte Gray, author of <em>The Massey Murder</em> and <em>Murdered Midas</em>
"Return is the book I didn’t realize I needed until it arrived on my desk during lockdown. The dispossessed make up a nation all their own. Al-Solaylee explores what it means to be one of its citizens, and how strongly the call of elsewhere can unsettle us. This is an urgent, thought-provoking read with much to say about our future."
Esi Edugyan, Giller Award-winning author of <em>Washington Black</em>
"The great trick of Return is the way Al-Solaylee turns the migrant’s camera around from its customary position facing forward and examines the place that was left, the origin, the place that haunts her always. Such love, in these stories, and fear and trauma and ambivalence. The welcome is only the easiest first step of meeting new people and peoples. Understanding and comprehension require a different sort of effort and Al-Solaylee brings the reader to this effort with grace and patience. This is a gorgeous book."
Kevin Patterson, author of <em>Consumption: A Novel</em>
"In a world awash with migrants, many are looking not forward but back, to homes, families and languages left behind, writes the critically acclaimed Toronto author. Al-Solaylee portrays the conflicted emotions of a diaspora of Irish, Basques, Ghanaians and others with grace and nuance, but never more evocatively than when laying bare his own yearning for war-torn Yemen, his birthplace."