Out of Place: A Memoir

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9780394587394: Out of Place: A Memoir

Out of Place is an extraordinary story of exile, a narrative of many departures, a celebration of an irrecoverable past. A fatal medical diagnosis in 1991 convinced Edward Said that he should leave a record of where he was born and spent his childhood, and so with this memoir he rediscovers the Arab landscape of his early years--"the many places and people [who] no longer exist . . . Essentially a lost world." Vast changes occurred as Palestine became Israel, Lebanon was transformed by twenty years of civil war, and the colonial Egypt of King Farouk disappeared forever by 1952.
        
Born in Jerusalem in 1935, Said was the only son in a prosperous family of five children. His ferociously demanding father upheld many Victorian values and ideals, and his adoring mother inspired his love of music, theater, and literature. His aunt Nabiha gave him his first sense of what it meant to leave Palestine, something never discussed by the family. Said writes with great passion and wit about his family and his friends--from schools in Cairo and summers in the mountains above Beirut to, as he grew older, camp in Maine, boarding school in Massachusetts, and college at Princeton University. Underscoring all is the confusion of identity as Said had to come to terms with the dissonance of being an American citizen, a Christian and a Palestinian, and, ultimately, an outsider.
        
Out of Place reveals an unimaginable world of rich, colorful characters, of exotic eastern landscapes. Lyrical and beautifully crafted, it is often extremely frank as well as intimate and humorous. Said has exposed a most personal past, letting us observe the people who formed him and who enabled him to triumph as one of the most important intellectuals of our time.

Out of Place won the New Yorker Book Award for nonfiction in 2000.

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Review:

Edward Said is one of the most celebrated cultural critics of the postwar world. Of his many books of literary, political, and philosophical criticism, Orientalism--a brilliant analysis of how Europe came to dominate the Orient through the creation of the myth of the exotic East--and the monumental Culture and Imperialism are the best known. His books have redefined readers' understanding of the impact of European imperialism upon the shape of modern culture. Said's career as a thinker spans literature, politics, music, philosophy, and history. As a dispossessed Palestinian growing up in the Middle East and subsequently living in the USA, he has witnessed the impact of the Second World War upon the Arab world, the dissolution of Palestine and the birth of Israel, the rise of Nasser and the PLO, the Lebanese Civil War, and the faltering peace process of the 1990s. As a result, the publication of Said's memoirs, Out of Place, is a particularly significant event. The book offers a fascinating account of the personal development of a critic and thinker who has straddled the divide between East and West, and in the process has redefined Western perceptions of the East and of the plight of Palestinian people.

However, as the title suggests, Said's memoir is a far more ambivalent and at times personally painful account of his early years in Palestine, Egypt, and Lebanon, as well as the often paralyzing embrace of his loving but overbearing parents. Said's memoirs are powerfully informed by his sense of personally, geographically, and linguistically "always being out of place." Born to Christian parents and caught between expressing himself in Arabic, English, and French, he evokes a vivid, but often very unhappy, portrait of growing up in Cairo and Lebanon under the crushing weight of his emotionally intense and ambitious family. The early sections of the book paint a poignant picture of the oppressive regime established over the awkward, painfully uncertain young Edward by his loving mother and expectant, unforgiving father, both of whom cast the longest emotional shadows over the book. Those expecting an account of Said's subsequent intellectual development will be disappointed; apart from the final 50 pages, which deal with Said's education at Princeton and Harvard, Out of Place is, as Said himself says, primarily "a record of an essentially lost or forgotten world, my early life." It is this carefully disclosed record that accounts for Said's deeply ambivalent relationship with both his family and the Palestinian cause. Composed in the light of serious illness, Out of Place is an elegantly written reflection on a life that has movingly come to terms with "being not quite right and out of place." --Jerry Brotton, Amazon.co.uk

From the Back Cover:

"Absorbing. . . . An almost Proustian portrait." --The New York Times

"Said has turned the writing of a memoir itself into perhaps the most profound type of homecoming a perennial exile can know." --The Village Voice Literary Supplement

"Engrossing. . . . [Said has] an almost Proustian feel for smells, sounds, sights, and telling anecdotes." --The New York Review of Books

"If autobiography is above all a means of explaining one's self to oneself, then Out of Place . . . must be seen as a triumph." --The Boston Globe

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