Ryerson journalism professor Kamal Al-Solaylee’s debut book is a Canada Reads finalist, and it “feels bloody fantastic.”
Intolerable: A Memoir of Extremes traces Al-Solaylee’s journey as a gay, Middle Eastern man settling in Canada while coping with family members who turn to uncompromising renditions of Islam.
The finalists were announced Tuesday.
The theme for this year’s competition is “one book to break barriers.” The panels chose books that bring social issues like indigenous identity, struggles faced by immigrants and homophobia to the forefront in Canadian literature.
The memoir has received widespread praise and won the 2013 Toronto Book Award.
Al-Solaylee said he’s always surprised when his book gets a good review. Recalling his time as a theatre critic, he said he knows how critical people can be.
“I still think of it as my little book—my therapy session, my love letter to Canada,” he said.
Al-Solaylee said that to sit down and write something so personal was, at first, “excruciating.”
“I wanted to tell the story in my head but also protect my own and my family’s privacy,” he said. “It was a constant battle.”
What started out as a personal tale of growing up as a gay Muslim man, grew to become an encompassing look at homophobia in the Arab community.
“As I was writing it I felt I had to give voice to the millions of nameless, faceless Arab-Muslim men and women that the West in general knows very little about or cares to explore beyond the headlines,” he said.
Al-Solaylee said most readers should be able to relate to his experiences of being an outsider, and his search for a home and self-acceptance.
“I want this book, which is dedicated to Toronto, to be seen as a Canadian story,” Al-Solaylee said. “Immigration is our national narrative. I like to think that my book is a small contribution to it.”
The five panelists for Canada Reads have each selected three books for consideration. Each will later argue for one during debates to decide the winner. The broadcast will air March 16 to 19 on CBC Radio One and CBC Television.
By Maham Shakeel