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 Publishers Weekly
An influential literary critic (Culture and Imperialism, etc.), writes movingly and honestly about his life of dislocation and exile. Prompted by a diagnosis of leukemia in 1991, Said's new book is infused with a desire to document not only a life, but a time and placeAPalestine in the 1930s and '40sAthat has since vanished. Born in 1935 to a Lebanese mother and Palestinian father who had American citizenship, and raised in Palestine, Egypt and Lebanon, Said has always lived with a divided identity. Even as a child he realized that his first name was British, his last name was Arabic and his nationality was American. In a straightforward, often poetic style, Said charts his family history, his education in British and American schools and his move to the U.S. in 1951 to attend Princeton and begin what was to become a distinguished career as an academic and intellectual. The memoir's most engaging elements are the little personal details that help us understand his later work: the young Said's love of such Hollywood films as Arabian Nights, with Maria Montez, or the novels of Twain and Cooper, offer fresh insights into his later writings about orientalism. Said can be frank about his personal lifeAwhether it's learning about masturbation or his intense relationship with his mother, whom he identifies as Gertrude to his HamletAwhich gives the book moments of deep, intimate openness. In the end, this memoir is less a tidy summing-up than an acceptance and exploration of what has been. As Said says, he has "learned actually to prefer being not quite right and out of place." Agent, Andrew Wylie. (Sept.)
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