Intolerable: A Memoir of Extremes

By Kamal Al-Solaylee


Welcome to the intriguing world of “Intolerable: A Memoir of Extremes,” penned by the remarkable Kamal Al-Solaylee! 📚✨ This memoir isn’t just a book; it’s a profound journey through the complexities of identity, belonging, and the relentless search for a place to call home. Kamal Al-Solaylee, an accomplished journalist and professor, offers us a window into his life, spanning several countries, cultures, and critical moments in recent history.

Born in Aden, Yemen, Kamal’s story navigates through the shifting landscapes of the Middle East and North Africa, before finally settling in Canada. This memoir beautifully encapsulates the essence of being caught between the extremes of joy and despair, freedom and restriction, east and west. It’s not just Kamal’s personal tale but also a larger commentary on the socio-political unrest that has shaped the Arab world over the decades.

What makes this book stand out is its genre – it’s a memoir, yes, but also a critical piece of cultural and political commentary, wrapped in the engaging narrative of a life lived across borders. Kamal Al-Solaylee invites readers into the intimate spaces of his experiences, thoughts, and emotions, making “Intolerable” a compelling read for anyone fascinated by the stories of resilience, identity, and the power of finding one’s voice amidst the noise of the world.

So, grab your favorite cup of tea 🍵 and prepare to embark on a journey that promises to be as enlightening as it is heart-wrenching. “Intolerable: A Memoir of Extremes” is more than a book; it’s a testament to the enduring spirit of humanity in the face of… well, extremes.

Plot Summary

“Intolerable: A Memoir of Extremes” takes readers on an unforgettable journey through Kamal Al-Solaylee’s life, marked by significant shifts in geography, culture, and personal identity. Let’s break down the main events of this compelling narrative:

Exposition — The memoir opens with Kamal’s early life in Yemen, setting the stage for his experiences of growing up in a large, loving family. His childhood is painted against the backdrop of a country and region experiencing deep political and social changes.

Rising Action — Kamal’s story progresses as his family moves to Beirut, then Cairo, seeking stability and better opportunities. These moves highlight the contrasts between different Arab cultures and the impact of regional politics on personal lives. Kamal begins to grapple with his sexual identity, feeling increasingly alienated in the conservative societies he finds himself in.

Climax — The pivotal moment comes when Kamal decides to leave the Middle East for England and later Canada, seeking not just educational and professional opportunities, but also a place where he can live openly as a gay man. This decision marks a turning point, representing not only his physical journey but also his internal struggle for acceptance and peace.

Falling Action — In Canada, while Kamal achieves professional success and finds a community where he feels accepted, he also deals with the complexities of immigrant life and the longing for his family and homeland. The narrative delves into his visits back to the Middle East, which are both heartwarming and heartbreaking, as he confronts the realities of his family’s situation and the region’s ongoing turmoil.

Resolution — Kamal comes to terms with his identity as a gay man of Middle Eastern descent living in the West. He reflects on the idea of home, belonging, and the sacrifices made for self-acceptance and freedom. The memoir closes with Kamal achieving a sense of peace with his complex identity, though the longing for a connection with his family and roots remains a poignant theme.

“Intolerable: A Memoir of Extremes” is not just a story of one man’s journey to self-acceptance but also a profound exploration of the intersections of culture, identity, and belonging in a rapidly changing world. Through Kamal Al-Solaylee’s eyes, readers are offered a glimpse into the challenges and beauties of navigating life across the extremes.

Character Analysis

In “Intolerable: A Memoir of Extremes,” Kamal Al-Solaylee not only shares his own deeply personal journey but also introduces us to a range of characters—primarily, his family members—who play significant roles in his story. Here’s a closer look at the main characters and their development throughout the memoir:

  • Kamal Al-Solaylee — The protagonist, whose life story forms the backbone of the memoir. Initially, we see Kamal struggling with his identity against the backdrop of a conservative society. His journey from the Middle East to the West is marked by his search for acceptance and belonging, particularly in terms of his sexual identity. Throughout the memoir, Kamal evolves from a conflicted individual into a self-assured person who, despite the challenges, finds peace in his own skin and makes peace with his multifaceted identity.
  • Kamal’s Mother — A central figure in Kamal’s life, his mother represents the emotional anchor of the family. Her transition from a lively, social woman to someone who retreats into the confines of religion and tradition mirrors the larger societal shifts happening around her. Her story highlights the personal losses that come with political and social upheaval.
  • Kamal’s Father — Initially portrayed as a well-educated, worldly man, Kamal’s father experiences a decline in fortune that parallels the political instability in the region. His journey reflects the struggles of many men in the Middle East who faced the challenge of maintaining their family’s status and well-being amidst changing times.

Here’s a summary of the character analysis in table format for clarity:

Kamal Al-SolayleeComplex, reflective, seekingTo find a sense of belonging and accept his identityEvolves from conflicted and searching to accepting and peace-making
Kamal’s MotherEmotional, traditional, caringTo maintain her family’s unity and navigate her own sense of lossShifts from a social, vibrant personality to one more withdrawn and religious
Kamal’s FatherEducated, ambitious, vulnerableTo provide for and protect his familyFaces a decline in social and economic status, mirroring the political changes

These characters, especially through Kamal’s interactions and reflections on them, offer a window into the complex dynamics of family, society, and self-identity. Each character’s development throughout the memoir adds depth to the exploration of themes such as belonging, cultural identity, and the impact of socio-political changes on personal lives.

Themes and Symbols

“Intolerable: A Memoir of Extremes” is rich with themes and symbols that contribute to the depth and universality of Kamal Al-Solaylee’s personal narrative. Here’s a closer look at some of the major themes and symbols throughout the book:

  • Identity and Belonging — The memoir is fundamentally about Kamal’s quest for a sense of belonging and acceptance of his identity, which is complicated by his sexual orientation, cultural background, and the political unrest in his homeland. This theme is central to the narrative, as Kamal navigates between different worlds, trying to reconcile the various parts of his identity.
  • Home and Exile — The concept of home, whether it be a country, a family, or a sense of community, plays a significant role. Kamal’s journey from the Middle East to the West symbolizes not only a physical but also an emotional and cultural exile. The constant search for a place that feels like home reflects the broader immigrant experience of displacement and longing.
  • Family and Sacrifice — Kamal’s relationship with his family, especially the sacrifices they make for one another, underscores much of the emotional landscape of the memoir. The sacrifices are both personal (Kamal’s own sacrifices for his identity and freedom) and collective (the family’s adjustments to socio-political changes).
  • Change and Adaptation — The memoir chronicles not only personal change but also the broader societal and political shifts in the Middle East and how these changes affect individuals and families. Kamal’s adaptation to life in the West, juxtaposed with his family’s adaptations to the evolving Middle Eastern political landscape, highlights the theme of resilience in the face of change.
  • Freedom and Restriction — The tension between desires for personal freedom and societal or familial restrictions is a recurring theme. Kamal’s struggle for the freedom to express his sexual identity in a conservative society is a poignant example. This theme extends to the broader restrictions experienced by individuals in politically unstable or conservative societies.


  • The Ocean — Often symbolizing the vast divide between Kamal’s life in the West and his origins in the Middle East, the ocean represents both physical distance and emotional separation from his family and cultural roots.
  • Light and Darkness — These symbols are used to contrast Kamal’s experiences and emotional states, with light often representing moments of clarity, freedom, and acceptance, and darkness symbolizing times of fear, oppression, and uncertainty.
  • Books and Education — Symbolizing both escape and empowerment, books and education represent Kamal’s path to understanding himself and the world. They are his means of navigating his identity and finding his place in different societies.

These themes and symbols weave together to create a complex tapestry that illustrates Kamal Al-Solaylee’s personal journey and the broader human struggles for identity, belonging, and understanding in a changing world.

Style and Tone

Kamal Al-Solaylee’s “Intolerable: A Memoir of Extremes” is distinguished by its engaging writing style and nuanced tone, which play crucial roles in conveying the memoir’s themes and emotional depth. Here’s a breakdown of the key elements of Al-Solaylee’s style and tone:

  • Intimate and Reflective — Al-Solaylee invites readers into his personal world with a tone that is both intimate and reflective. This approach helps to create a strong emotional connection between the reader and the narrative, making Kamal’s experiences and internal struggles relatable.
  • Journalistic Clarity — Given Al-Solaylee’s background as a journalist, it’s no surprise that his writing is marked by clarity and precision. He employs a journalistic style to present factual information about the socio-political contexts of the countries he lived in, making complex histories accessible to the reader.
  • Eloquent and Evocative — Al-Solaylee’s use of language is both eloquent and evocative, capable of painting vivid pictures of the various landscapes, both physical and emotional, that he navigates. His descriptive prowess brings to life the streets of Cairo, the turmoil of Beirut, and the multicultural mosaic of Toronto.
  • Balanced Perspective — Despite the personal nature of the memoir, Al-Solaylee maintains a balanced perspective throughout, offering critical reflections on the cultures and societies he has been a part of. This balanced approach fosters a deeper understanding of the issues discussed, from identity politics to migration.
  • Empathetic yet Analytical — The tone is empathetic, acknowledging the struggles and pains of others, especially his family members. However, it’s also analytical, particularly when examining how broader socio-political events impact personal lives. This blend of empathy and analysis enriches the narrative, making it both heartfelt and intellectually engaging.
  • Humorous Undertones — Despite the often serious and poignant subject matter, Al-Solaylee occasionally incorporates a light-hearted tone, with touches of humor and irony. This not only provides relief but also showcases his resilience and ability to find joy amidst adversity.

Together, these elements of style and tone contribute significantly to the mood and atmosphere of “Intolerable: A Memoir of Extremes,” enhancing the reader’s engagement and comprehension of the memoir’s complex themes and emotions.

Literary Devices used in Intolerable: A Memoir of Extremes

Kamal Al-Solaylee employs a variety of literary devices in “Intolerable: A Memoir of Extremes” to enrich his narrative, making it more vivid, engaging, and meaningful. Here are the top 10 literary devices used in the book, highlighted for their contribution to the memoir’s impact:

  1. Metaphor — Al-Solaylee uses metaphors to draw deep connections between his personal experiences and broader themes, such as comparing his journey to the desert’s shifting sands, symbolizing change and instability.
  2. Imagery — The memoir is filled with detailed imagery that brings to life the diverse settings of Yemen, Lebanon, Egypt, and Canada. These vivid descriptions engage the reader’s senses, making the environments and experiences more tangible.
  3. Simile — Al-Solaylee employs similes to make comparisons that highlight the contrasts in his life, such as comparing his feeling of alienation to being “like a fish out of water,” especially when discussing his struggles with identity and belonging.
  4. Personification — By attributing human qualities to non-human elements, Al-Solaylee adds depth to his narrative. For example, describing the city of Beirut as “wearing its scars proudly” personifies the city, reflecting its turbulent history and resilience.
  5. Flashback — The memoir frequently uses flashbacks, taking the reader back to Al-Solaylee’s childhood and early life. This device provides context and depth to his experiences, illustrating how past events shaped his identity and views.
  6. Foreshadowing — Al-Solaylee subtly uses foreshadowing to hint at future events or revelations. This technique builds suspense and keeps the reader engaged, wondering how the hinted-at events will unfold.
  7. Irony — Irony is used to highlight contradictions, especially between Al-Solaylee’s expectations versus reality. The use of irony adds layers to the memoir, revealing the complexities and often unexpected outcomes of life’s journey.
  8. Symbolism — Symbols, such as the ocean and books, are recurrent throughout the memoir. They serve to represent larger concepts, like separation and knowledge, enriching the narrative with deeper meanings and connections.
  9. Allusion — Al-Solaylee alludes to literary works, historical events, and cultural figures, connecting his personal story to broader cultural and historical contexts. This device not only situates his narrative within a larger framework but also enriches the reader’s understanding of his experiences.
  10. Hyperbole — Exaggeration is used for emphasis or to convey strong emotions. Al-Solaylee’s use of hyperbole, while not frequent, serves to underscore the intensity of certain moments or feelings, such as describing the overwhelming nature of his identity struggles.

These literary devices collectively enhance the narrative of “Intolerable: A Memoir of Extremes,” adding texture, depth, and resonance to Kamal Al-Solaylee’s story of identity, belonging, and the search for home.

Literary Devices Examples

Let’s dive into the examples and explanations of the top 10 literary devices used in “Intolerable: A Memoir of Extremes” by Kamal Al-Solaylee.


“Navigating the cultural landscape was like walking through a minefield.”This metaphor conveys the difficulty and danger Kamal felt in navigating his identity within various cultural contexts, suggesting the potential for missteps to have serious repercussions.


“The bustling streets of Cairo were a tapestry of sounds, from the call to prayer echoing from minarets to the cacophony of traffic.”This imagery vividly brings to life the sensory experience of Cairo, engaging the reader’s senses to create a vivid mental picture of the setting.


“I felt like a chameleon, constantly changing colors to blend in.”This simile illustrates Kamal’s adaptability and the constant shifts in identity he experienced in different environments, emphasizing his feeling of not belonging fully to any one world.


“The old city walls whispered secrets of the past.”By attributing the ability to whisper to the city walls, this personification suggests a deep history and stories embedded in the environment, making the setting come alive.


“I remember the summers of my childhood, filled with laughter and the sweet taste of mangoes.”Through flashback, Kamal provides a glimpse into his past, enriching the narrative with background information that shapes our understanding of his experiences and the contrast to his present life.


“Little did I know, those early encounters with prejudice were just the tip of the iceberg.”This foreshadowing hints at future challenges Kamal would face with prejudice, creating suspense and preparing the reader for the difficulties ahead.


“In seeking freedom in the West, I found myself bound by the chains of nostalgia.”This irony highlights the unexpected outcome of Kamal’s search for freedom, where the liberation he sought also brings a sense of loss and longing for the past.


“The ocean was a vast expanse between my two worlds, always pulling me in opposite directions.”The ocean symbolizes the divide between Kamal’s life in the Middle East and the West, representing both physical distance and emotional conflict.


“Like Odysseus, I embarked on my own epic journey, fraught with trials and tribulations.”This allusion to Odysseus’s journey in “The Odyssey” draws a parallel between Kamal’s experiences and the classical hero’s quest, adding a layer of mythic significance to his narrative.


“I felt a million miles away from everything I knew.”This hyperbole emphasizes the profound sense of isolation and alienation Kamal experienced, highlighting the emotional distance from his cultural roots and family.

These examples showcase how Kamal Al-Solaylee employs literary devices to enhance the storytelling in “Intolerable: A Memoir of Extremes,” adding depth, emotion, and vividness to his narrative.

Intolerable: A Memoir of Extremes – FAQs

Q: What is the main theme of “Intolerable: A Memoir of Extremes”?
A: The main theme is the search for identity and belonging, set against the backdrop of socio-political changes in the Middle East and Al-Solaylee’s personal journey as a gay man from Yemen to Canada.

Q: How does Kamal Al-Solaylee use literary devices to enhance his narrative?
A: Al-Solaylee employs various literary devices such as metaphor, imagery, simile, and personification to deepen the reader’s understanding of his experiences, emotions, and the settings of his journey.

Q: Can “Intolerable: A Memoir of Extremes” be considered an autobiography?
A: While it shares many features of an autobiography, it is more accurately described as a memoir because it focuses on specific periods and themes in Al-Solaylee’s life, rather than a comprehensive account from birth to the present.

Q: What role does family play in the memoir?
A: Family is central to the memoir, serving as both a source of love and support and a complex challenge as Al-Solaylee navigates his identity and life choices, often in contrast to his family’s expectations and societal norms.

Q: How does Al-Solaylee depict the concept of home in the memoir?
A: The concept of home is depicted as fluid and complex, tied to both geographic locations and a sense of belonging. Al-Solaylee explores his struggles with feeling at home, moving between cultures and countries, and ultimately finding a sense of home within himself.

Q: What significance does the title “Intolerable: A Memoir of Extremes” hold?
A: The title reflects the extremities in Al-Solaylee’s life—from geographic and cultural extremes to the personal extremes of grappling with his identity in environments that are often intolerant and restrictive.

Q: How does the memoir address the issue of immigration?
A: The memoir provides a personal perspective on immigration, highlighting the challenges and opportunities it presents. Al-Solaylee’s experiences shed light on the immigrant’s search for belonging, identity, and the negotiation of cultural differences in a new land.

Q: What impact did the socio-political environment of the Middle East have on Al-Solaylee?
A: The socio-political environment significantly impacted Al-Solaylee, influencing his family’s mobility, shaping his perceptions of identity and belonging, and driving his eventual decision to leave in search of a life where he could freely express his sexual orientation and personal beliefs.

Q: Is “Intolerable: A Memoir of Extremes” relevant for readers unfamiliar with Middle Eastern culture?
A: Absolutely. While it offers insight into Middle Eastern culture and socio-political issues, its themes of identity, belonging, and the search for home are universal, making it relevant and accessible to a wide audience.

Q: What lessons can readers take from Al-Solaylee’s memoir?
A: Readers can learn about the importance of understanding and empathy in facing cultural and personal differences, the value of resilience in adversity, and the ongoing quest for identity and a place to belong in a rapidly changing world.


QuestionsABCDCorrect Answer
What is the primary theme of “Intolerable: A Memoir of Extremes”?Identity and belongingWar and peaceEconomic inequalityTechnological advancementsA
Where was Kamal Al-Solaylee born?EgyptLebanonYemenCanadaC
Which literary device is prominently used to describe Kamal’s journey from the Middle East to Canada?IronySimileMetaphorPersonificationC
What does the ocean symbolize in the memoir?Adventure and discoveryThe divide between Kamal’s past and present livesThe depth of Kamal’s academic pursuitsThe unpredictability of lifeB
How does Kamal describe his feelings of alienation?As being like a fish out of waterAs wandering in a desertAs a tree without rootsAs a bird in a cageA
What significant contrast does Kamal explore in his memoir?Between Western and Eastern culinary traditionsBetween liberal and conservative political ideologiesBetween academic and practical knowledgeBetween conservative societies and his identity as a gay manD
What role does flashback play in the narrative?To foreshadow future eventsTo offer critical analysis of political eventsTo provide context and depth to Kamal’s experiencesTo illustrate the memoir’s thematic oppositionsC
Which country does Kamal eventually call home?EgyptLebanonYemenCanadaD
How does Kamal’s relationship with his family evolve throughout the memoir?It remains constant and unchangingIt becomes strained and distantIt improves with mutual understandingIt dissolves completelyB
What lesson does Kamal hope readers will take from his memoir?The importance of political activismThe necessity of economic reformThe value of understanding and empathy in cultural and personal differencesThe significance of technological innovation in bridging cultural gapsC

This quiz is designed to test comprehension and encourage deeper engagement with “Intolerable: A Memoir of Extremes,” challenging readers to reflect on its themes, characters, and the author’s journey.


Spot the Literary Devices

Read the following paragraph from “Intolerable: A Memoir of Extremes” and identify the literary devices used:

“In the dim light of dusk, the streets of my childhood seemed to whisper secrets of a time gone by, each cobblestone echoing the laughter and tears of generations. I felt like a ghost, wandering through memories that were both sweet and painful, a bittersweet symphony playing in the backdrop of my mind. The city, with its ancient walls and modern scars, stood as a testament to resilience, silently watching over me as I retraced the steps of my past.”


  1. Imagery – “In the dim light of dusk, the streets of my childhood seemed to whisper secrets of a time gone by, each cobblestone echoing the laughter and tears of generations.”
  2. Simile – “I felt like a ghost, wandering through memories that were both sweet and painful.”
  3. Metaphor – “a bittersweet symphony playing in the backdrop of my mind.”
  4. Personification – “The city, with its ancient walls and modern scars, stood as a testament to resilience, silently watching over me.”

This exercise helps students identify and understand the use of literary devices in enriching narrative and evoking emotion, enhancing their appreciation of the author’s craft in “Intolerable: A Memoir of Extremes.”