Monday, December 15, 2014 |
Part coming-out memoir, part contemporary Middle Eastern history and part cultural analysis, Intolerable is Kamal Al-Solaylee's chronicle of his painful family history. Al-Solaylee is well known to Canadians for his journalism and cultural criticism - he was the theatre critic at the Globe and Mail for many years. But he was quiet about his background until writing Intolerable. In the book, he describes growing up in the Middle East at a time of enormous political strife and religious intolerance, coming to terms with his identity as a gay man and escaping to get an education and build a life for himself in England and then here in Canada.
(Photo by Mark Raynes Roberts)
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.
My mother, Safia, was born and raised in Hadhramaut, a part of my home country of Yemen that is better known today as the birthplace of the bin Laden clan. When she and my father, Mohamed, were married in the fall of 1945, in the port city of Aden, then a British protectorate, he was fresh off serving a stint in the Allied army and she had just reached puberty mere months before. A year earlier, she once confided to me, she had listened to the radio for the first time in her life and her older sister, Mariam, had talked of something called the cinema. The voice of an Egyptian singer, whom she identified years later as Oum Kalthoum, flowed through the airwaves when she walked past a little makeshift work station in the hills of Hadhramaut. Another Egyptian artist - Anwar Wagdi, Egypt's answer to Gene Kelly - was starring in an early musical melodrama, which she never got to see but had Mariam re-enact several times during their breaks from tending sheep.
From Intolerable by Kamal Al-Solaylee ©2012. Published by Penguin Canada.