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Intolerable: A Memoir of Extremes

3.60  ·  Rating details ·  943 ratings  ·  150 reviews
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 ...more
Hardcover, First Edition, 204 pages
Published May 7th 2012 by HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.
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3.60  · 
Rating details
 ·  943 ratings  ·  150 reviews

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Glenn Sumi
Mar 09, 2015 rated it really liked it
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
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 ...more
David Hallman
Aug 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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;
Bob Paterson-watt
Feb 16, 2015 rated it did not like it
Recommended to Bob by: Canada Reads
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 ...more
Jun 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
Ahhh..Kamal Komeath (Al-Solaylee)..
You are NOT a whiner! When a person is able to live well..that may be 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!..
"Home at last. I was Canadian now and p
Feb 16, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2015
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 ...more
Jan 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
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
Matthew Quann
Feb 09, 2015 rated it liked it
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 ...more
Feb 15, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
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 ...more
Mar 12, 2015 rated it it was ok
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 ...more
Jan 20, 2015 rated it it was ok
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.
Selina Young
Jan 22, 2015 rated it really liked it
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.
Mar 01, 2015 rated it it was ok
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
Jan 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Mar 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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
Bea Seaotter
Jan 20, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2015
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
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
Mar 04, 2015 rated it liked it
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 ...more
Hella Comat
Sep 09, 2014 rated it it was ok
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 ...more
Laurie Burns
Apr 10, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir, canadian
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
Feb 25, 2016 rated it really liked it
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
Sherry Monger
May 12, 2015 rated it liked it

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
Enid Wray
Feb 22, 2015 rated it really liked it
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
Kathleen Scott
Feb 21, 2015 rated it liked it
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
Laura Mirabella-siddall
Jan 24, 2015 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Wendy Caron
Oct 21, 2018 rated it liked it
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.
Jan 25, 2015 rated it it was ok
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.
Mar 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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.
Judy Decaigny
Dec 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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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Kamal Al-Solaylee (born 1964) is a Canadian journalist, who published his debut book, Intolerable: A Memoir of Extremes, in 2012.

Born in Aden, his family went into exile in Beirut and Cairo following the British decolonization of Yemen in 1967. Following a brief return to Yemen in his 20s, Al-Solaylee moved to London to complete his PhD in English, before moving to Canada.

He has worked extensively
“Freedom with poverty meant more to me than money without personal choice” 0 likes
“It's great that a Yemeni revolutionary, Tawakel Karman, won the Nobel Peace Prize and that a handful of women burnt the veil -- while fully veiled -- in an act of defiance. All that plays well in Western media and helps advance the narrative of the Arab Spring. But none of it is keeping Yemeni families safe in their beds at night.” 0 likes
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