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In his 2000 memoir, Out of Place, Palestinian critic and Columbia University Professor, Edward Said, recounts his life (mostly his childhood and early adulthood) in Palestine, Lebanon, Egypt and ultimately the U.S.

The theme of this book is feeling “out of place”: being a Christian Palestinian Arab American, Said was affected by the political upheaval around him, and his father’s difficult scrutiny of him, or “bullying” caused him to be shy and lack esteem as a child. His complicated but close relationship with his mother is also a major topic in this book, about which he writes several passages, showing his skill at putting subtle expressions on paper; he also rounds up the book with the topic of his mother.

Out of Place is an honest and moving account of coming of age and belonging. It is astounding how Said remembers the details and names of his formative years, and especially the people – family members, teachers and friends – who have influenced his life.

At a later phase of the book, Said writes harrowingly about the experience of being fatally ill and the feeling of nearing death. Out of Place is not just an episodic autobiography, but a sort of reflection and realization of the past which shaped the author’s life. Edward Said’s writing contains memories and scenes infused within each other; each memory smoothly leading to another: It is a mesmerizingly absorbing book and page turner..

Said writes lively accounts of the many dimensions of school life in Cairo and the United States: the cunning tricks he and his friends played on his teachers, corporal punishment, unjust teachers (astonishing how one remembers those school authorities who used to pick one you), friendship, loneliness, and generally the bizarre and absurd things of school.

He also discusses his avid love for classical music and literature. As a young person, Edward was, even if subliminally, aware of the the effect of colonization and dispossession, for he had lived through it himself and observed its victims. Out of Place is an ebullient account and reflection on an intellectual’s life, filled with rich and touching memories and dialogue (made all the more vibrant with Arabic phrases).

I think that Out of Place is a quintessential book in the memoir genre; read it.

Out of Place on Amazon

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