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Tale of cultural domination and a repressive adolescence
on 4 November 2001
Said is the voice of the displaced Arab. Most Arabs based in the West are there because they know that there is a better life for them, but this sits uncomfortably with the contradiction that the world order that provides these opportunities is the same one in which the Arab continues to be a second class citizen. The Arab's sense of sadness and sense of continual injustice has never truly been given the level of media exposure it merits.
This book touches on themes of displacement, dissolusionment, crises of identity, and ultimately unexpected sources of freedom and resolvings with an honesty associated more with the poet than the academic. Qualities of honesty and emotion that surface in Said's academic texts can be embraced more fully in the less structured genre of autobiography, this one written under the shadow of a terminal illness. Rather than analysing his career we are treated to an insight into his formative years.
There are perhaps two main themes: the first is education under an anachronistic British system and an alienating American one. In a British school in Cairo, resistance to the power took the form of talking Arabic: a people resisting merely by using their mother-tongue.
The second is the enduring influence of his parents upon him. His overbearing father's almost total control over his time, direction and sexuality in his early life. The mixed blessing of his mother's love, having an almost spiritual quality in the way it nourishes him and yet leaving him with crippling guilt as he attempts to develop adult relationships with women.
To relate to this book is to acknowledge one's pain, and to become more aware of the life long project of coming to terms with one's self. Though I write from the perspective of a half-english, half-arab adult of English culture, I feel that this has something to say to every citizen of the world that is willing to grapple with questions of his identity.
A must read, beyond the intellectual world.