By ROBERT LIWANAG
Ryerson journalism professor Kamal Al-Solaylee’s 2012 memoir has been included in the long list for the CBC’s 2015 Canada Reads competition.
The book, Intolerable: A Memoir of Extremes, recounts Al-Solaylee’s upbringing in Yemen, Beirut and Cairo, his family’s history, coming to terms with being gay and his eventual move to Toronto. It was released to widespread critical acclaim, and later won the 2013 Toronto Book Award.
“I’m surprised by the reception this book has received in Canada,” said Al-Solaylee. “In many ways, Intolerable is written from the heart and without any bells and whistles, and these books tend not to get noticed by award juries too often.”
The Canada Reads competition features a different theme every year. The theme for 2015 is “one book to break barriers,” and the 15 books selected for the long list by five panelists highlight various social issues, including homophobia, indigenous identity and the immigrant experience.
The five panelists have each selected three books. Each panelist will later decide which book he or she will argue for during debates that air from March 16-19 on CBC Radio One and CBC-TV.
“I’m very honoured to make the long list. It means that my book, while ostensibly about the Arab-Muslim world, is seen very much as a Canadian story,” said Al-Solaylee. “Making the list boosts my sense of belonging and pride in Canada.”
Published in the wake of the Arab Spring, Al-Solaylee intended Intolerable to be his love letter to both Toronto and Canada. He also said that the major themes of the book, such as self-acceptance and complex familial relationships, should be recognizable to anyone, despite readers having different cultural or ethnic backgrounds.
“I just got a message from an Italian reader based in England to say how much he related to the book,” said Al-Solaylee. “I got similar messages from all over the world. Nothing could be more satisfying to a writer than knowing one’s work has connected on a deep, emotional level with readers.”
The final five books will be revealed on Jan. 20, 2015.