2013 Toronto Book Award Nominee - Intolerable: A Memoir of Extremes
The first of many 'extremes' Al-Solaylee chronicles in his memoir concerns his parents' widely divergent backgrounds: his mother was an illiterate shepherdess who married at age fourteen and had eleven children by her thirty-third year. His father, on the other hand, was a worldly, educated Anglophile, a wealthy business man in Aden, southern Yemen, then under British control. When the socialist government kicked the British out and confiscated his father's real estate investments, Al-Solaylee's father packed up his large family and moved them first to Beirut and then to Cairo.
During these moves other extremes emerged. His family's wealth seriously declined as his father, always an outsider, found it hard to make a living. As time passed, the writer, then a teenager, heard the tone in the streets and schools shifting towards religious stridency and a rejection of Western culture. To add to the mix, it was during his family's time in Cairo that Al-Solaylee came out, to himself at least, as a gay teenager. He even discovered an underground gay culture in Cairo, but it was a brief refuge. When his father decided to move the family back to Yemen, this time to the capital Sana'a, Al-Solaylee knew he would have to leave his family one day if he ever wanted any personal freedom.
That he has a Ph.D in Victorian literature and is currently a professor in Toronto tells you how far from his parents’ world, Al-Solaylee has taken himself. But, the physical distance and extreme differences of culture between his new life and the life of his siblings in Yemen, which by 2011 had erupted into religious and civil unrest, have filled him with feelings of guilt which he writes about with great honesty.
That's what makes this memoir more than simply a personal story: it's also a record of the changing political and social climate across the Middle East and a thoughtful, unique coming-out and coming-of-age story.
And, in a sweet touch, he dedicates the book to Toronto "for giving me what I’ve been looking for: a home"
I highly recommend it.
Meet the nominees at Yorkville Branch on Thursday October 3rd (that's tonight)!
Watch a brief interview with the author discussing his memoir.