Intolerable: A Memoir of Extremes
by Kamal Al-Solaylee
Harper Perennial. 204 pages, $15.99
WHILE family memoirs are often drenched in anguish, Kamal Al-Solaylee’s Intolerable takes the genre to a new level. The Toronto-based journalist and university professor reaches back to his parents’ history, from Yemen in the ’60s through Beirut, Cairo, and back to Yemen up to the Arab Spring, in agonizing, heart-wrenching detail. Along the way, he illuminates the complex struggles and historical moments that have shaped the region, all through his own very personal vantage point.
Al-Solaylee begins with loving portraits of his Yemeni parents. His mother was a poor, illiterate woman, and his father a proud Yemeni who was also an avid Anglophile with a UK passport. His father managed to make a reasonable living flipping real estate until the colonial powers were overthrown and nationalist socialism moved in. With his properties seized by the state, the senior Al-Solaylee had little choice but to move to greener pastures. And so began the journey of the family with eleven children: first moving to Beirut but fleeing the war in Lebanon to go to Cairo (where they couldn’t quite fit in), only to return to Yemen as a last resort at a time when ethnic, religious, and economic friction became too much to bear.