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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 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.


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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 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.

30 review for Intolerable: A Memoir of Extremes

  1. 5 out of 5

    Glenn Sumi

    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 has more of 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, but more concrete 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 cliché. 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.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Marieke

    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? But...this 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 him...finding 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.

  3. 4 out of 5

    David Hallman

    The Story Behind the Story There 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 Story There 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 even more consequence, 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 http://amzn.to/SbKkap For information on my memoir “August Farewell” see my website http://DavidGHallman.com

  4. 4 out of 5

    Bob Paterson-watt

    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.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Alexis

    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.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Lester

    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!!

  7. 4 out of 5

    Mj

    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 became more prevalent, 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 became more fundamentalist, 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 was more right 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 many more readers. 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.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jeanne

    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 meant more to 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.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Matthew Quann

    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 spent more time 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!

  10. 5 out of 5

    Navarra

    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 was more interested 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 more.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Connie

    Imagine growing up in an Arab country that originally allows women freedoms, and your friends are not only Muslims, but Christians, Jews, etc. Now imagine that strict Islamic observance begins to spread, affecting the lives of your beloved sisters, particularly when your older brother embraces Islamic law and torments them about the work they do, the way they dress, and the way they speak their minds. Finally, imagine moving back to a country where sharia law is practiced... And you are a young Imagine growing up in an Arab country that originally allows women freedoms, and your friends are not only Muslims, but Christians, Jews, etc. Now imagine that strict Islamic observance begins to spread, affecting the lives of your beloved sisters, particularly when your older brother embraces Islamic law and torments them about the work they do, the way they dress, and the way they speak their minds. Finally, imagine moving back to a country where sharia law is practiced... And you are a young gay man. Kamal Al-Solaylee writes about his determination to escape a world in which his sexual orientation could result in his death by hanging. Fleeing first to England and then to Canada, he watches from a distance as his sisters suffer and his father and brothers, previously liberal, become more Conservative. Unable to help them, Kamal is tormented by guilt at leaving his family--especially his beloved mother and sisters--behind. Despite the closeness between them, his mother's advice when he tells her of his plans is simple: "Escape!" A finalist for the Hilary Weston Writers' Trust for Nonfiction, and currently a "Canada Reads" choice, Intolerable is impossible to put down.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Kirstin

    Not as well-structured and eloquent as I would have wanted for a Canada Reads contender. I thought the amount the author dwelt on his homosexuality was over the top. Obviously, it played into his motivation for leaving and his sense of oppression, but I think he provided more details than necessary. I was put-off by a sense of entitlement he conveyed throughout, giving us details like the fact that he now owns a Cocker Spaniel. In light of the horrors his family is experiencing in Yemen, that wo Not as well-structured and eloquent as I would have wanted for a Canada Reads contender. I thought the amount the author dwelt on his homosexuality was over the top. Obviously, it played into his motivation for leaving and his sense of oppression, but I think he provided more details than necessary. I was put-off by a sense of entitlement he conveyed throughout, giving us details like the fact that he now owns a Cocker Spaniel. In light of the horrors his family is experiencing in Yemen, that women and gays in particular are experiencing (as he does discuss at length), why do we need to know quite SO MUCH about his fascination with Barbra Streisand, Olivia Newton-John and Anne Murray. In conclusion, I think Al-Solaylee had an important and worthwhile story to tell, but the way he went about it was slightly odd and less articulate than I would have expected for someone with his education. Then again (and this is slightly catty), by his own admission he didn't devote the time to his Masters and PhD that they deserved. Perhaps he should have.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Anna

    I found this repetitive and lacking focus which perhaps reflects the fact that I don't generally do well with memoirs. There were parts of the book that gave me some insight to the rise of fundamental religion in the Middle East and I found that very interesting, but otherwise the book left me uninspired and unmoved.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Selina Young

    There is so much in this book makes it an excellent Canada Reads choice. It's an immigrant story, covers gay issues and repression, politics, history and family ties.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Pamela

    I did not connect with this book. I find Al-Solaylee judgmental, opportunistic and self-centred. I know that I'm being harsh. I will be interested to see the debates on Canada Reads. I need to hear some positives about this book. The changes in Yemen and Egypt are huge, but fundamentalist and conservative religion are oppressors too. "...It will take decades to rebook the economies of countries as different as Egypt and Yemen. It looks unlikely that foreign investment will flow back easily to Egyp I did not connect with this book. I find Al-Solaylee judgmental, opportunistic and self-centred. I know that I'm being harsh. I will be interested to see the debates on Canada Reads. I need to hear some positives about this book. The changes in Yemen and Egypt are huge, but fundamentalist and conservative religion are oppressors too. "...It will take decades to rebook the economies of countries as different as Egypt and Yemen. It looks unlikely that foreign investment will flow back easily to Egypt, and it may not flow at all to Yemen, which had very little of it to begin with. Millions of unemployed and struggling youth could turn to hardline readings of Islam, leaving them vulnerable to extremists. I worry about the lives of women in a place like Yemen if that happens. How much more marginalized will they be? Despite the odd story in the Western media about how a handful of Yemeni women have taken part in, even spearheaded, the revolution, if the chaos continues the society that will emerge will be tribal, violent and hostile to women." Things changed over time, but Kamal's nieces and nephews are different from him. It wasn't in his nature to protest when he was young. He was struggling with his gay identity, and longing for an escape, not to change the country in which he lived; he is self-aware on this one. It would have been way too big a task. But Yousra is admirable. "My niece Yousra, by then twenty-three, would go behind her mother's back to the protests outside Sana'a University and demand political and economic change. In an email message to me she explained why she insisted on speaking her mind in this way. 'I'm a Yemeni and I have a right.' I couldn't imagine taking part in a revolution or even a demand for change when I was her age. All I'd wanted was to get out. That email highlighted the differences between her generation and her mother's and mine. It's not just that technology has connected the youth of a country like Yemen, there comes a point when a population has just had enough of oppression and despair to say or so something about it." I always thought it would be great to have a Star Trek-like cloaking device when I was president/chief steward, especially when I had to choose books for Bookmobile patrons on other floors of the library. Everybody wanted to ask me something about the union, negotiations, or whatever. "...Still working as a librarian at Sana'a University, she [Raja'a] occasionally got stopped by students in the market if she wasn't wearing the niqab, just for a chat or to ask library-related questions. She said the niqab made her feel more mobile, free to move from one store to the next. I didn't hink that was a good excuse, but wearing it was just camouflage to her. It felt right, she said." Al-Solaylee preferred historic analysis, not the psychoanalysis and deconstruction that was becoming popular. And yet it was everywhere. I see it everywhere too. It's interesting that his approach to academia is very anti-academic, and more about changing his culture, and yet he persevered, got his Ph.D and is now a professor. There are many paths through the woods of academia. The importance of names, in culture and in their legacy: "There's so much to a name in Arabic culture. Your name aligns you socially and politically with your clan or provides an escape from it. .... The verb form of my name, kamael, means to fill the gap or complete a story. To try to live up to the many meanings of Kamal, even subconsciously, is an attempt at self-destruction, one meaning at a time. It's a given that I am far from perfect, but to fill the gap betwen my life now, as a writer and university professor in Toronto, and that of my parents my siblings in Yemen is what makes this book a necessity and a daunting task. How can I write of a mother who lived and died without learning to read or write in her native tongue, let alone English, when I went on to earn a Ph.D. in Victorian literature? Is it still a 'gap' between my mother and me when the distance is the equivalent of living different cetnrues and worlds?..." Al-Solaylee documents his journey from Yemeni to North America, both geographically and culturally. In the way women began to change their dress: "...A sister who worked as a librarian at Sana'a University wore the full niqab, covering all her face except her eyes. When I visited again in 2006, she followed me around town for half an hour, just for fun, without revealing her identity to me. I never noticed or recognized her."

  16. 4 out of 5

    Sophie

    I really liked this book and before seeing everyone else's comments, thought it had big chances to win Canada reads. It his memoir and it makes sense that it is written from his perspective. The fact that he rejected for so long his own culture and language is astonishing, and despite the fact that it is sometimes hard to like him, I think his story is very moving. Having to leave one's family behind to be able to live a better life must take a lot of guts and in some ways I admire him. I am not I really liked this book and before seeing everyone else's comments, thought it had big chances to win Canada reads. It his memoir and it makes sense that it is written from his perspective. The fact that he rejected for so long his own culture and language is astonishing, and despite the fact that it is sometimes hard to like him, I think his story is very moving. Having to leave one's family behind to be able to live a better life must take a lot of guts and in some ways I admire him. I am not the most knowledgable on the history of the Middle East so some facts names and information were lost on me and I had trouble keeping up,but I was so intrigued by how wearing the hijab and women's rights has evolved in these countries. I did think he could of talked about Canada a bit more. His immigration story was brief and I don't think we got the story of what every immigrant goes through. The contrast between North America and England was interesting, but I thought he praised the U.S. a bit too much. All in all, I thought this book may break barriers as it explains so much on a culture that may not be as known here. I think that especially in Quebec (with the Charte) we might get more insight into the wearing of the hijab and we can understand better. This book covers homosexuality, race and immigration, issues that are very important in Canada , and on all three levels I believe it breaks barriers.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Bride

    This memoir came on my radar as it is one of five books shortlisted for this year's Canada Reads. While I don't think it is "the one book to break barriers," I enjoyed it very much. It was not without fault, hence the thee star rating: it was fairly repetitive, perhaps owning to the fact that there were excerpts from various previously published pieces that possibly overlapped in content (just a guess); and more significantly, the story, though powerful, was told with what I thought was an air o This memoir came on my radar as it is one of five books shortlisted for this year's Canada Reads. While I don't think it is "the one book to break barriers," I enjoyed it very much. It was not without fault, hence the thee star rating: it was fairly repetitive, perhaps owning to the fact that there were excerpts from various previously published pieces that possibly overlapped in content (just a guess); and more significantly, the story, though powerful, was told with what I thought was an air of detachment that made connection difficult for me. I can't help but think that this detachment might be Al-Solaylee's way of coping with the intolerable hardships endured by the family he left behind and that he might still be grappling with the related guilt he often spoke about. That, I can understand, but I wonder if the story would have been better told once he'd made peace with his guilt. Merely speculation, of course. I don't regret the time I spent with this book, and would recommend it to anyone who, like me, isn't familiar with Yeman and related politics (beyond the relatively little news coverage we see in Canada), and would like to expand their world view via a short and fascinating personal account from someone who lived there during a very dynamic time.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Sharon

    I did think this book made some powerful statements about the changing climate in the Middle-East over the course of five or six decades, the intensification and rise of the strictest interpretations of Islam, one young man's growing realization of his homosexuality and his place in those societies, and the changing realities for women over the years. His own family's situation was heart-breaking and I would have liked more writing about that, but as he has spent a few decades living in Toronto I did think this book made some powerful statements about the changing climate in the Middle-East over the course of five or six decades, the intensification and rise of the strictest interpretations of Islam, one young man's growing realization of his homosexuality and his place in those societies, and the changing realities for women over the years. His own family's situation was heart-breaking and I would have liked more writing about that, but as he has spent a few decades living in Toronto in a kind of estrangement from them, with brief uncomfortable phone calls, perhaps no more can be expected. All-in-all, I didn't find this book riveting, but the subject matter was definitely interesting. What I most appreciated was the author's unswerving honesty about his gayness, his discomfort in his homeland and his feelings of guilt and compassion toward his family. I felt that I was almost inside the head of a youth coming to understand his sexuality.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Carla Johnson-Hicks

    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 occurre 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.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Hella Comat

    Memoir of a Toronto professor of journalism who grew up in Yemen. His family was not religious and his father was in real estate. In the 60s, revolutionaries took over, confiscated all of the family's properties, and they moved first to Beirut and later to Cairo. There the wave of Islamic extremism in the early 80s sent them back to Yemen, where their quality of life quickly went downhill as Middle East unrest grew. His 10 older siblings were affected by the Arab/Muslim influence: the once-liber Memoir of a Toronto professor of journalism who grew up in Yemen. His family was not religious and his father was in real estate. In the 60s, revolutionaries took over, confiscated all of the family's properties, and they moved first to Beirut and later to Cairo. There the wave of Islamic extremism in the early 80s sent them back to Yemen, where their quality of life quickly went downhill as Middle East unrest grew. His 10 older siblings were affected by the Arab/Muslim influence: the once-liberal brothers became proponents of Islam and bullied the sisters into changing their way of life, dress, culture, and religion. Kamal left to go to school in England and later in the US and Canada as he wanted to live an openly gay life. His story is a personal and frightening look at the insidious and destructive effects of religious fundamentalism.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Laurie Burns

    This book was shortlisted for the 2015 Canada Reads Prize. This book is part memoir, part history of the Arab world and part coming out story. But it never feels dull. He explains so much about the Middle East, but the whole time I was learning I was yearning to know more. 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 and he identifies with the struggles of being a This book was shortlisted for the 2015 Canada Reads Prize. This book is part memoir, part history of the Arab world and part coming out story. But it never feels dull. He explains so much about the Middle East, but the whole time I was learning I was yearning to know more. 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 and 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.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Enid Wray

    Fabulous reflection on growing up gay in the Middle East. One among many layers of "extremes" the author went through growing up first in Yemen, then basically in exile in Egypt. Set against the backdrop of radical fundamentalism - and terrorism - that has sprung out of Yemen in the last 20 years. This book really resonated with me on account of the four years my parent's spent living and working in the Middle East at much the same time period... as a white Western female I was able to relate to Fabulous reflection on growing up gay in the Middle East. One among many layers of "extremes" the author went through growing up first in Yemen, then basically in exile in Egypt. Set against the backdrop of radical fundamentalism - and terrorism - that has sprung out of Yemen in the last 20 years. This book really resonated with me on account of the four years my parent's spent living and working in the Middle East at much the same time period... as a white Western female I was able to relate to the social and cultural context he was writing about... a bit of a trip down memory lane for me.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Sherry Monger

    I found this to be an interesting memoir in light of the fighting that is going on in Yemen at the present time. Written by man living in Toronto but a native of Aden, I learned a great deal about the political and religious turmoil that has engulfed the region over the last 40 years. Al-Solaylee documents the rise of Islamic fundamentalism as he despairs over the changes in the lives of his family and especially the hardships endured by his sisters. He is extremely grateful to Canada for accepti I found this to be an interesting memoir in light of the fighting that is going on in Yemen at the present time. Written by man living in Toronto but a native of Aden, I learned a great deal about the political and religious turmoil that has engulfed the region over the last 40 years. Al-Solaylee documents the rise of Islamic fundamentalism as he despairs over the changes in the lives of his family and especially the hardships endured by his sisters. He is extremely grateful to Canada for accepting him as a citizen and as a gay man, something that would be punishable by stoning in his native country. Al-Solaylee works as a journalism professor at Ryerson University in Toronto.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Debbie

    This book was recommended to me based on other books I've read. I ordered it from the library and had no idea what to expect. I found it to be quite an interesting and quick read. Kamal shares his life story moving from a secure middle east to our current middle east. It was fascinating to read how life seemed to 'move backwards' especially for the women in terms of, what westerners would consider, freedom. Equally as interesting, was his story from the eyes of being a gay male in the middle eas This book was recommended to me based on other books I've read. I ordered it from the library and had no idea what to expect. I found it to be quite an interesting and quick read. Kamal shares his life story moving from a secure middle east to our current middle east. It was fascinating to read how life seemed to 'move backwards' especially for the women in terms of, what westerners would consider, freedom. Equally as interesting, was his story from the eyes of being a gay male in the middle east and eventually in Toronto. For someone like me who has little knowledge of the middle east crisis except from a Western News perspective, I quite enjoyed reading a first hand account.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Laura Mirabella-siddall

    I've given this book four stars because I think it should be read. I did not find the protagonist very likeable. At times I was mad at him for being so selfish and not trying harder to save his mother or sisters. But I recognized him...quite apart from the social and cultural history (which was well written) I recognized the one who "makes it". Whether escaping a poor neighbourhood, an abusive family, or a war torn country, this person won't look back for fear that somehow "they" will notice the I've given this book four stars because I think it should be read. I did not find the protagonist very likeable. At times I was mad at him for being so selfish and not trying harder to save his mother or sisters. But I recognized him...quite apart from the social and cultural history (which was well written) I recognized the one who "makes it". Whether escaping a poor neighbourhood, an abusive family, or a war torn country, this person won't look back for fear that somehow "they" will notice the escapee on the loose and send them back to the life they fled.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Kathleen Scott

    I struggled with the rating of this book. I am not sure if I should give it a 2 or a 3. The book was mildly interesting. Growing up in a mostly privileged life but being gay during a time of change. I think the title of the book was appropriate. I wish the author had gone into a bit more detail of his family's reaction to him being gay and other family details. I found the story lacking this, he seemed to just glide over most things and he did repeat himself a few times throughout. This is a Canada I struggled with the rating of this book. I am not sure if I should give it a 2 or a 3. The book was mildly interesting. Growing up in a mostly privileged life but being gay during a time of change. I think the title of the book was appropriate. I wish the author had gone into a bit more detail of his family's reaction to him being gay and other family details. I found the story lacking this, he seemed to just glide over most things and he did repeat himself a few times throughout. This is a Canada Reads nominee.- hopefully not the winner.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Wendy Caron

    I can see why this book was included as part of the Canada Reads 2015 'Breaking Down Barriers' series. It was informative and provided an understanding of the implications of the strife in Yemen on a family. I am always amazed at how unaware I am of what is going on in the world. Is there just too much misery and hardship to absorb? As a Canadian, I appreciated the depiction of Toronto as a welcoming haven for Al-Solaylee. Having written the book in 2012, I wonder whether this still is the case.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Erika

    I often get to the end of memoirs and think, "so what?" and while this story shared a life in an area I have read little about, it still wasn't captivating. I don't know how many times I needed to read that he is a gay man; it wasn't as if I would forget but I was reminded every two pages. I'm not sure what the point if this book was. It certainly doesn't break any barriers for me as the Canada Reads theme is looking for. Dull and repetitive as far as I'm concerned.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Nicole

    Personally, I would have selected this book as the 2015 Canada Reads winner. The story is remarkable in that it offers a first hand look into the radical changes of the middle east thanks to unstable political climates and changed focus to hard line Islam, an exploration into the experience of immigration, and the realities of being gay in a country/culture that condemns it. I'll never see these issues in the same light again.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Judy Decaigny

    I loved this book. Learned so much about a country that was just a dot on the map. (Yemen) He has led a very interesting life and has been really upfront and honest about his thoughts and feelings, both good and bad. I would recommend this book to anyone who complains about living in Canada, or in any democracy in the world.

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