Intolerable: A Memoir of Extremes by Kamal Al-Solaylee

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3/5 stars.
Paperback, 272 pages.
Read from April 04 to 08, 2015.

I’m so close to reading all the books in Canada-Reads 2015 now! One more to go. Intolerable is the only official memoir in this years collection and I don’t see how Intolerable could have been written any other way.  This book is about a family who is torn apart by history and guilt.

Kamal Al-Solayee, was born in Aden, Yemen in 1964. He was last of 11 eleven children in the arranged marriage of his parents. Despite what people believe of the Middle East now, it wasn’t always that way. Kamal’s father was a wealthy business man and his family enjoyed all the luxuries that came with it. From vacations, photos, clothes and restaurants Kamal’s family was well taken care of in the days of Aden. Kamal’s sisters enjoyed fashion and make-up as well as going to the beach in their bikinis, all activities that were completely normal for them to be partaking in at the time. This happy family life unfortunately did not last. When Yemen was decolonized, Kamal’s father lost everything. The family had to move away from Aden and live off the savings that Kamal’s father had accumulated in which they become middle class citizens.

During this time was when Kamal started to notice that was different in that he took more of an interest in what his sister’s were doing than the masculine activities his brothers took part in. He was always a self-proclaimed mama’s boy so he was able to get away with the behavior while he was still young. As time progressed Kamal began to figure out that he was gay while, unfortunately, his oldest brother started to adopt the strict Muslim ways that had started to spread through the Middle East. His brother began to put pressure on his sisters, who were successful career women, about their ‘demeaning’ dress and behavior and tried to get them to adopt Islamic ways. It wasn’t until the family moved to again to be with their father that things really changed. The country was changing drastically to adopting stricter Muslim laws. Slowing Kamal watched his mother and sister’s become oppressed and their spark fade. The quality of life in their homes also quickly deteriorated in the war-torn area that they were living in. As Kamal knew he was gay, he feared for his life as homosexuality is punishable by death. He knew he could no longer stay with his family so he made the heartbreaking decision to go to school in England.

From there, Kamal realized that he never wanted to return home. He then ended up in Canada and found his home in Toronto but the tension and guilt he felt over the crumbling conditions his family was living never stopped haunting him. He cannot explain to his family the new life that he is living. The wouldn’t understand his homosexuality or even his career choices.

The Middle East has a way of catching up with you no matter how far you run.”

This book shows the tragic reality of living in the Middle East and what it’s truly like for families that live there and for those who leave it. Kamal is what Canada is all about, as his friends often told him. Kamal came to Canada with nothing but guilt and a heritage he was hoping to leave behind him. While he found a home and success within Canada it wasn’t until he was able to confront his heritage and family that he was able to start feeling whole again. While he never fully reconciled with his family, he was at least able to come to an understanding. Kamal did what he had to do to save himself and live the life that he needed to pursue, but the guilt of leaving his family will likely never leave him.

A poignant read and a necessary one to grasp the real realities of the people living in the Middle East.

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Filed under 3 Star, Biographies/True Stories/Memoirs, Canada Reads 2015, Canadian, Read 2015

The Martian by Andy Weir

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4/5 stars.
ebook, 300 pages.
Read from March 10 to 21, 2015.

I’m not normally a big science fiction fan but this book kept bombarding my Goodreads newsfeed so I figured I’d give it a try. This book absolutely exploded the year it was released and it is now being made into a big Hollywood movie which is expected to be released November 2015. Relatively unknown before the publication of this book, the author Andy Weir, is the son of a particle physicist and was caught up in the world of science fiction at a young age. He studied computer science, though he apparently didn’t graduate, not that it stopped him from him from working as a programmer and at some pretty big name companies like AOL and Blizzard. He actually worked on Warcraft 2 which I think is pretty awesome! I love that game. I’m tell you all this because it’s relevant to the content of this book as only someone with this kind of background could write a novel like this. This book is so hugely appealing because of the effort that Weir takes to make it realistic. This not only displays Weir’s intelligence but also his talent, as he manages to add some pretty technical aspects to this novel but it never loses its readability. It’s apparent that Weir enjoys puzzles and problems and his enjoyment comes through his words in this book.

Mark Watney is one of the first astronauts to land on Mars and with the way things are going he may the be the first to die there. Mark is a very funny, witty, intelligent and remarkably resourceful person. Apparently NASA selected him for the this mission for his optimism and sense of humor as, psychologically, it’s a good mix to have while being in space for years. Mark heads out to Mars with his team of other remarkably brilliant people to Mars to do a routine mission. However when a bad wind storm picks up Mark is thrown away from his team and his suit is pierced and the equipment in it malfunctions. His poor team, thinking, and for good reason, that he is dead pack up their stuff and head back on the almost year long trip back to Earth.   The book opens with Mark’s first realization that he his trapped on Mars with no way of communicating back to Earth that he is alive. NASA does eventually figure out that Mark is alive but the trouble is the publicity that this scenario has created back on Earth and the real dilemma of trying to rescue him before he runs out of food.

Where the book gets technical is with Mark’s brainstorming and problem solving. I’m no genius so I haven no idea how plausible the scenarios in the book are but they sure seem like they could be, so that’s a mission accomplished in my books. The situations and feats that Mark accomplishes to save his own skin on Mars is truly remarkable. As a reader, you’re anxiously awaiting to see how Mark solves his next trial in order to keep himself alive. What makes this book even better is that the chapters are written as a space log. Mark is recording his events on Mars to have some sort of documentation of what happens to him while he is on Mars, and not only are they remarkable but some of them are down right hilarious. He is so frank and honest in the logs because he doesn’t think that anyone will ever get a chance to listen to them. From cursing and despair, to commentary on the terrible entertainment his crew members left behind, Mark is a character I would love to meet and would definitely love to read more of. I’m anxious to see the movie now.

You don’t need to be a science fiction lover to enjoy this novel, but it never hurts to bring out your inner nerd.

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Filed under 4 Star, Read 2015, Science-Fiction

And The Birds Rained Down by Jocelyne Saucier

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4/5 stars.
ebook, 176 pages.
Read from March 21 to 23, 2015.

I’ve now read three out of the five books for Canada Reads 2015. While I couldn’t get all of the books read for the debates that happened this last week, I will finish all five! I will discuss the choice of the winner and my collective thoughts on all five books in a post once I’ve finished them all.

Now, this book, is astonishingly beautiful. Death and aging are aspects of life that no one ever likes to discuss, admit or confront. It’s one of the few things that we have no control over in our lives, but for Tom and Charlie, two older gentleman, they choose to live the rest of their lives on their own terms and make the conversation of death a welcome topic of conversation. Tom and Charlie live out in some remote woods with no connection to the modern world, with their only companions being that of their dogs and two pot growers. Tom enjoys his drink, most of the time a bit too much. but he is charming and loves to reminisce, whereas Charlie is more reserved and keeps to himself a bit more.  However, things are about to change for the two men.

A curious female photographer, looking for their very recently deceased friend, Ted, surprises the men with her ability to get to their remote homes without alarming their dogs. She has come to document and photograph the remaining individuals who lived through the great and devastating fires that spread through Northern Ontario at the beginning of the century, an event which Ted had lived through and was quite reclusive about. Rumors, stories and her own detective work had finally brought the photographer to the right place but just not in time. However, the brief hospitality that she received was enough for her to return as Tom and Charlie were intriguing on their own. What ends up making the photographer a consistent returning visitor is the appearance of Gertrude, who is one of the pot grower’s aunts. Gertrude has broken her out of a psychiatric ward where she had lived her whole life. Gertrude’s story is extremely tragic, but she finally has the opportunity to live her own life. The men don’t know what to do with a woman, especially one that knows nothing about living in the woods, but they know they can’t let her go back to where she came from so they happily accommodate her. For Charlie, the appearance of Gertrude will change him forever and give him a new life and new perspective on death.

While originally written in French, the beauty of this book is not lost in translation. It’s easy to relate to the characters, no matter what age you are and their story is a reminder to us that it’s never too late for a second chance at life. However, in terms of Canada Reads, it doesn’t quite fit the bill for the theme this year, which is breaking barriers. The choices that Tom and Charlie make, to meet death on their own terms, really shows more determination than anything else. I suppose they do break some barriers in that they are choosing to live such a remote lifestyle, but I don’t think it’s enough.  So while this book has been my favourite so far, I am not surprised that it didn’t win and was taken out of the debate early on.

If you’ve ever contemplated your own mortality or position in life, then I would highly recommend reading this refreshing book.

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Filed under 4 Star, Canada Reads 2015, Canadian, Read 2015