This year we decided to buy and read all of the books chosen for CBC’s annual Canada Reads event. We happened to be in Waterloo and found four of the five at the Chapters store. We read them on our holiday in Cuba and I shared my thoughts about them then.
The fifth book, Intolerable by Kamal Al-Solaylee was not available in the store. It wasn’t available online at Amazon or Chapters/Indigo either. I found this odd for a book chosen to be part of the national book club. Printers did get the message and new copies were printed. We got ours last week after the airing of the debates about the books and the final announcement of this year’s winner, Ru.
Intolerable was the first book voted off the island. The program this year asked the question: “Which is the one book that breaks barriers?”. Certainly, Intolerable does attempt to do that, introducing us to a family pushed around the middle east by conflict and economics, a young man struggling with his sexual identity in an increasingly restrictive society, a part of the world being swept by religious radicalism. It is Kamal’s story, his biography, and on its own a wonderful story.
It was the first voted off the list. I missed hearing that particular program, but, its not hard to see why it was set to the side early. While it shares some of the themes of the immigrant experience with Ru, it does not do it with the same beauty of language and image. It shares some of the struggles of living into a sexual identity with When Everything Feels like the Movies without the graphic writing, the shock of words. It shares descriptions of displacement and discrimination, but doesn’t land in our backyard like The Inconvenient Indian. Its story telling doesn’t match And the Birds Rained Down. I’m not surprised it didn’t win or that, initially anyway, we couldn’t find it in the bookstore or online.
Don’t get me wrong, Intolerable is a good read, an interesting story, a peep hole into a life I could never imagine and would not want to experience. Its a story of changing times, a changing world, and those who either change with it or decide to allow the flow to take them along.
But, the Canada Reads group was right in voting it down. Read the other four first, if you have time, pick up Intolerable.