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Posted September 12, 2012
What a waste--Out of Place, what could have been a fascinating a
What a waste--Out of Place, what could have been a fascinating account of a childhood spent torn between worlds, turned out to be a dry, repetitious, disjointed grind through a life of vapid privilege. Edward Said might have turned out to be an original thinker in analyzing the conflict and interplay between European and indigenous cultures and a champion of the Palestinians, but none of that comes through in his rote description of his life through his twenties. People come and go in endless succession, being granted a line or at best a paragraph; virtually the only people given three dimensions are his mother and father. Even his siblings are given short shrift. We get little more than their names. His first wife doesn't even rate that, appearing out of nowhere and disappearing just as suddenly. What is most astonishing is that Said is jaw-droppingly oblivious to privilege and class. He had to have known, even as a child, that he was living a life far more Westernized and privileged than the overwhelming majority of people in Cairo, Jerusalem, Lebanon, and more comfortable even than most people in America, yet people outside of his wealthy bubbles are virtually not mentioned. If Said made any attempt to mingle with the less than rich Egyptians, Lebanese, or Americans (or Palestinians, for that matter) we never hear of it. The comparisons to Proust in terms of his writing are undeserved. His prose is merely descriptive, utterly lacking in the barbed humor of memoirs like Mary Karr's The Liar's Club, Said Sayrafiezadeh's When Skateboards Will Be Free, or Helene Stapinski's Five Finger Discount, or the quiet dignity of Cheri Register's Packinghouse Daughter. (Said doesn't have the energy to even name the chapters, they're merely numbered, and pointlessly so, since they don't seem to be divided according to portions of his life.) He doesn't give the background sweep of Pablo Neruda's memoirs, or the moving account of someone really experiencing being out of place in Leo Spitzer's Hotel Bolivia, his wrenching account of being moved from Vienna to La Paz to escape the Nazis. If someone British growing up in Egypt had written the same account as Said of a privileged upbringing in private schools, Ivy League colleges and travel, with long whiny sections over his problems with his parents, it would have been dismissed--rightly so--as oblivious and elitist. Are we supposed to ignore that because of his Arab-American heritage? Ultimately he fails at telling us what it's like to be out of place, since he gives no description of the places he's supposed to be alienated from or the roots of his alienation. Anyone looking for an account of being torn between cultures or the roots of an advocate for the Palestinians will need to turn elsewhere. Coming from a land of poverty, his strongest complaint is not being picked valedictorian at his Connecticut prep school. Maybe writing this helped Said deal with his illness, but that gives us no reason to spend three hundred pages being part of his therapy.
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Posted August 14, 2005
Out of place in the Said cannon...
I found this memoir/autobiography really interesting and colorful, but not quite fulfilling. For sure it didn't quite have that Said caliber that you'll find in his scholarly works. Also, it's really repetitive, especially in terms of his relationships with either parent. A lot of the historical issues seem vague and insincere too. Like the way he says he doesn't know why his family chose to go to Jerusalem for him to be born... or the way he shrugs at the fact that his mother's Lebanese passport said her birthplace was Cairo instead of Nazareth. On the whole, I'm glad I read it, and I DO recommend it, but I definitely wouldn't call it a great work by any stretch at all.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.