Thursday, October 22, 2009

Out of Place, A Memoir

Edward Wadie Said's autobiography is a testament to his towering intellect and amazing analytical powers. This most famous Palestinian after Yassar Arafat, is an amalgam of such contradictions that just reading what he has written down is an experience in itself. No, his is not a sob story and is not mysterious in any way but the precise and in depth analysis of a life lived belonging to a homeland mired in controversy. Being a natural born American Citizen among other things only amplifies the paradox of his life. Add on to this the fact that he is an Arab Christian of Palestinian descent with an entire childhood lived in colonial Egypt under British. Most of it was spent attending local British and American schools by virtue of his father's wealth, his Christian background, and the odd Citizenship again through his father. His father Wadie along with his mother dominated Edward's early life. Wadie had fought in the American Expeditionary Force in his early wanderings of the world before eventually returning home and becoming quite successful through brilliant entrepreneurship and business acumen.

This book is not for the faint of heart. It is not that the book depicts grisly war stories or heart wrenching pictures of families being torn apart - that aspect is represented very well and takes up good space- but rather it taxes the mind by forcing us to go through everything the author perceived and assimilated. Said's material shines with extreme intelligence and honesty in telling the story like it is. Like Said we also do not judge his autocratic father, vacillating mother or even the circumstances of his highly privileged but restricted life. Everything is laid out as bare facts but with enough empathy so the reader will see its oneness with the author. He has penned quite a few well acclaimed books and started writing this autobiography towards the end when he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. This could account for the analytical clarity and integrity that comes through his words but I believe these are qualities that permeate all his works. Pick it up only when you have time and willing to finish it. It is not an easy read but it makes you want to keep on reading and so you will finish it. It took me longer than usual but I will read it again just for the pleasure of going through Edward Said's brilliant presentation of his eventful life.