Author Kamal Al-Solaylee. Photography courtesy of Peter Bregg.

Toronto writer Kamal Al-Solaylee, a Yemeni expatriate, twice removed, is proof that you can never really go home again. And again. “It never feels like a holiday or a joy to be back in the Middle East. It’s a duty,” says Al-Solaylee, an
ELLE Canada contributor who recently published his memoir,
Intolerable: A Memoir of Extremes, which traces his journey out of the Middle East and into his own Western mecca. A former
Globe and Mail theatre critic and current undergraduate director at Ryerson University’s School of Journalism, Al-Solaylee writes about the tension with growing up watching his once-secular family embrace the values of the rising Islamic influence, as well as his guilt as a
dalo’o omo (his mother’s spoiled child) – he’s the baby of 11 kids, after all – with breaking his mother’s heart when he eventually escaped to England for a better life. Now living that life, Al-Solaylee, my much-loved former prof, speaks about his constant worry over his family in the Middle East, especially during recent violent outbreaks amidst Arab Spring protests, and why academia and
Olivia Newton-John pop music—two prominent aspects of his Toronto life—saved him.
What’s the significance of the title, Intolerable? "I wanted a title that’s one word…but I chose the word intolerable deliberately because something that is intolerable can become tolerable, whereas something that’s tragic does not become the opposite of tragic. Intolerable has hope in it somewhere—it’s intolerable now but it may not be intolerable in the long term. It’s the circumstances that almost make life intolerable, but that may change. With any luck, it will change."
Click through to hear Kamal Al-Solaylee on the Arab Spring and Barbra Streisand!