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Son of Elsewhere: A Memoir in Pieces

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An enlightening and deliciously witty collection of essays on Blackness, faith, pop culture, and the challenges--and rewards--of finding one's way in the world, from a BuzzFeed editor and podcast host. "A memoir that is immense in its desire to give . . . a rich offering of image, of music, of place."--Hanif Abdurraqib, author of A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise An enlightening and deliciously witty collection of essays on Blackness, faith, pop culture, and the challenges--and rewards--of finding one's way in the world, from a BuzzFeed editor and podcast host. "A memoir that is immense in its desire to give . . . a rich offering of image, of music, of place."--Hanif Abdurraqib, author of A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance ONE OF THE MOST ANTICIPATED BOOKS OF 2022--The Millions At twelve years old, Elamin Abdelmahmoud emigrates with his family from his native Sudan to Kingston, Ontario, arguably one of the most homogenous cities in North America. At the airport, he's handed his Blackness like a passport, and realizes that he needs to learn what this identity means in a new country. Like all teens, Abdelmahmoud spent his adolescence trying to figure out who he was, but he had to do it while learning to balance a new racial identity and all the false assumptions that came with it. Abdelmahmoud learned to fit in, and eventually became "every liberal white dad's favorite person in the room." But after many years spent trying on different personalities, he now must face the parts of himself he's kept suppressed all this time. He asks, "What happens when those identities stage a jailbreak?" In his debut collection of essays, Abdelmahmoud gives full voice to each and every one of these conflicting selves. Whether reflecting on how The O.C. taught him about falling in love, why watching wrestling allowed him to reinvent himself, or what it was like being a Muslim teen in the aftermath of 9/11, Abdelmahmoud explores how our experiences and our environments help us in the continuing task of defining who we truly are. With the perfect balance of relatable humor and intellectual ferocity, Son of Elsewhere confronts what we know about ourselves, and most important, what we're still learning.


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An enlightening and deliciously witty collection of essays on Blackness, faith, pop culture, and the challenges--and rewards--of finding one's way in the world, from a BuzzFeed editor and podcast host. "A memoir that is immense in its desire to give . . . a rich offering of image, of music, of place."--Hanif Abdurraqib, author of A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise An enlightening and deliciously witty collection of essays on Blackness, faith, pop culture, and the challenges--and rewards--of finding one's way in the world, from a BuzzFeed editor and podcast host. "A memoir that is immense in its desire to give . . . a rich offering of image, of music, of place."--Hanif Abdurraqib, author of A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance ONE OF THE MOST ANTICIPATED BOOKS OF 2022--The Millions At twelve years old, Elamin Abdelmahmoud emigrates with his family from his native Sudan to Kingston, Ontario, arguably one of the most homogenous cities in North America. At the airport, he's handed his Blackness like a passport, and realizes that he needs to learn what this identity means in a new country. Like all teens, Abdelmahmoud spent his adolescence trying to figure out who he was, but he had to do it while learning to balance a new racial identity and all the false assumptions that came with it. Abdelmahmoud learned to fit in, and eventually became "every liberal white dad's favorite person in the room." But after many years spent trying on different personalities, he now must face the parts of himself he's kept suppressed all this time. He asks, "What happens when those identities stage a jailbreak?" In his debut collection of essays, Abdelmahmoud gives full voice to each and every one of these conflicting selves. Whether reflecting on how The O.C. taught him about falling in love, why watching wrestling allowed him to reinvent himself, or what it was like being a Muslim teen in the aftermath of 9/11, Abdelmahmoud explores how our experiences and our environments help us in the continuing task of defining who we truly are. With the perfect balance of relatable humor and intellectual ferocity, Son of Elsewhere confronts what we know about ourselves, and most important, what we're still learning.

30 review for Son of Elsewhere: A Memoir in Pieces

  1. 4 out of 5

    Thomas

    I appreciated Elamin Abdelmahmoud’s writing about fighting internalized colonialism/racism, encountering Islamophobia, and learning to see his immigrant parents as three-dimensional figures. A theme of otherness and trying to find oneself in a new/alienating environment runs throughout these essays. I liked Abdelmahmoud’s honesty about his own relationship to whiteness and his conviction to face and address that relationship. At times I wanted tighter writing in this collection and felt that some I appreciated Elamin Abdelmahmoud’s writing about fighting internalized colonialism/racism, encountering Islamophobia, and learning to see his immigrant parents as three-dimensional figures. A theme of otherness and trying to find oneself in a new/alienating environment runs throughout these essays. I liked Abdelmahmoud’s honesty about his own relationship to whiteness and his conviction to face and address that relationship. At times I wanted tighter writing in this collection and felt that some of the essays wandered a bit. I also would’ve liked more elaboration about certain topics – for example it felt unclear to me as to why Abdelmahmoud’s father disliked his fiancé and now wife and more exploration of that would’ve helped flesh out that essay. Still, I appreciate Abdelmahmoud for sharing his voice and perspective with us.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Traci Thomas

    I love Abdelmahmoud's writing style and voice. Its like reading an old friend. He strikes the right balance between humor and gravity. I also loved his concept of "elsewhere" and how it showed up in his essays throughout this memoir. I love Abdelmahmoud's writing style and voice. Its like reading an old friend. He strikes the right balance between humor and gravity. I also loved his concept of "elsewhere" and how it showed up in his essays throughout this memoir.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Isabelle Duchaine

    Beautifully written, heartfelt, and honest. Thank you Elamin. The sentence on "slouching towards whiteness" keeps turning over in my brain. Only critique is that a book so heavily focused on the 401 doesn't mention The Big Apple at all. SMH must be holding out the cameo for Son of Elsewhere: 2 Else 2 Where. Beautifully written, heartfelt, and honest. Thank you Elamin. The sentence on "slouching towards whiteness" keeps turning over in my brain. Only critique is that a book so heavily focused on the 401 doesn't mention The Big Apple at all. SMH must be holding out the cameo for Son of Elsewhere: 2 Else 2 Where.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Alanna Why

    can't believe the most beautiful essay in this is about the 401 can't believe the most beautiful essay in this is about the 401

  5. 4 out of 5

    Shannon

    I went into this book completely blind never having heard of the author before but don't let that stop you! At twelve years old Elamin Abdelmahmoud emigrated from Sudan with his family to start a new life as a 'Black immigrant' in Kingston, Ontario - one of the most homogenous cities in Canada. Told with wit and incredible insights into what it was like growing up in Canada during the 2000s. I especially enjoyed his essay about the significance of the 401 to change life for Ontarians and the one I went into this book completely blind never having heard of the author before but don't let that stop you! At twelve years old Elamin Abdelmahmoud emigrated from Sudan with his family to start a new life as a 'Black immigrant' in Kingston, Ontario - one of the most homogenous cities in Canada. Told with wit and incredible insights into what it was like growing up in Canada during the 2000s. I especially enjoyed his essay about the significance of the 401 to change life for Ontarians and the one where he waxes poetic about The O.C. and why it was the perfect escapism for a young Muslim man in the aftermath of 9/11. Great on audio read by the author, this is perfect for fans of other essays collections like One day we'll all be dead and none of this will matter by Scaachi Koul or Sure, I'll be your Black friend by Ben Philippe.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Glennys Egan

    Cried twice, laughed many times, paused at several lines to re-read and savour them. We — and I mean everyone, but especially Canadians — are lucky to have Elamin as a public voice available to us. This book is a gift that might help some of us better understand what some of our community members are going through, while I imagine to others it articulates something they feel every day but don’t see represented often in the mainstream. This book is somehow so specific to Ontario/Sudan and my elde Cried twice, laughed many times, paused at several lines to re-read and savour them. We — and I mean everyone, but especially Canadians — are lucky to have Elamin as a public voice available to us. This book is a gift that might help some of us better understand what some of our community members are going through, while I imagine to others it articulates something they feel every day but don’t see represented often in the mainstream. This book is somehow so specific to Ontario/Sudan and my elder millennial generation, while also feeling universal. I didn’t know if my admiration for Elamin from afar could be bigger than it already was but I feel so lucky to be privy to new insight into the experiences and people that made this radiantly kind, funny, thoughtful human.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jill S

    Review video to come; in short, I loved this book and we are lucky to have Elamin on this planet, but especially in Canadian media.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Ashley Kaye

    I won an ARC of Son of Elsewhere and read it quite greedily in about 2 days once it got me hooked. The writing was poetic in a way that entranced me and the story kept me excited in Elamin Abdelmahmoud's life experiences. I really enjoyed how this memoir was not linear in Elamin's journey but rather weaved connections between his younger self in Sudan and his older life in Canada. I would highly recommend this memoir to anyone interested in the way others experience life. I won an ARC of Son of Elsewhere and read it quite greedily in about 2 days once it got me hooked. The writing was poetic in a way that entranced me and the story kept me excited in Elamin Abdelmahmoud's life experiences. I really enjoyed how this memoir was not linear in Elamin's journey but rather weaved connections between his younger self in Sudan and his older life in Canada. I would highly recommend this memoir to anyone interested in the way others experience life.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Caitlin

    When Brandi Carlile recommends a book, I read it! When I find out the book dedicates an entire essay to The OC, oh I REALLY read it. It goes without saying that this is so much more than those two things, but I am so glad they brought me to this book, because Elamin Abdelmahmoud is brilliant - his writing, his stories, his perspective - and I loved, loved listening to him read the audio. Funny, powerful, and absolutely charged with honesty and humour and insight. One of the most beautiful and ge When Brandi Carlile recommends a book, I read it! When I find out the book dedicates an entire essay to The OC, oh I REALLY read it. It goes without saying that this is so much more than those two things, but I am so glad they brought me to this book, because Elamin Abdelmahmoud is brilliant - his writing, his stories, his perspective - and I loved, loved listening to him read the audio. Funny, powerful, and absolutely charged with honesty and humour and insight. One of the most beautiful and generous explorations of identity I’ve ever had the chance to read. I ATE UP every mention of or essay on music, because WOW. One of those memoirs that deserves to be treasured and learned from, especially here in Canada, and another to add to my collection of books that I’m so thankful to have had the opportunity to read (or rather, to have had read to me)!

  10. 4 out of 5

    Lauren Simmons

    (Full disclosure, Elamin is a friend.) We are very lucky to be alive when Elamin is writing. This book is as generous as his heart, as tender, as true, as honest, as hilarious, as insightful, as much of a gift as Elamin is. You will laugh, and cry, and you will feel, like I do, gratitude for these words and for the chance to understand a friend a bit more.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Judy Rebick

    Just finished the audiobook. It’s wonderful. A deeply personal story of coming from elsewhere and becoming who you are. Rarely have I read a book of such honesty, intelligence and love. In a time of so much despair, it is a very hopeful read.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Layla Platt

    ON AUDIO. A very beautiful book to hear read by the author. Loved hearing the stories that shaped him to be the extraordinary writer (and seemingly person!) that he is today. The acknowledgements to daughter and wife made me tear up (totally did not have tears streaming down my face, its fine).

  13. 4 out of 5

    Gem

    I loved it. Some tears, many laughs, and a lot of nodding along thinking of my own immigrant experiences.

  14. 5 out of 5

    hannah

    So so beautiful... already thinking about when I can read it again.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Wayne Woodman

    Wow, this gives me a whole new perspective on immigrants and the angst they face in a new country. I have watched Elamin now on CBC for some time and have always been impressed by his knowledge and now feel like I know him a little more. He is certainly someone I would love to know as a friend.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Sali

    If I could re-read this book like it was the first time again I'd never stop. I devoured this book. It's structure, funny anecdotes, and ability to wrench your heart is impressive. Exactly what I hoped for from Elamin and then some. If I could re-read this book like it was the first time again I'd never stop. I devoured this book. It's structure, funny anecdotes, and ability to wrench your heart is impressive. Exactly what I hoped for from Elamin and then some.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Enid Wray

    Wowie! Elamin has only ever been a face and/or a voice on my TV and/or radio… I’ve never actually read his writing before. Time to change that. Can he write - wow! From the opening - talking about how immigrants have to ‘stretch’ themselves to find their footing - to the end - and talking about life being like living on a suspension bridge - the writing is exquisite. This is a tender exploration of the journey to finding one’s self and one’s place in the world. I laughed, I cried, and I got confu Wowie! Elamin has only ever been a face and/or a voice on my TV and/or radio… I’ve never actually read his writing before. Time to change that. Can he write - wow! From the opening - talking about how immigrants have to ‘stretch’ themselves to find their footing - to the end - and talking about life being like living on a suspension bridge - the writing is exquisite. This is a tender exploration of the journey to finding one’s self and one’s place in the world. I laughed, I cried, and I got confused sometimes - as in I so don’t get the whole world of RP and kinda glossed over much of that particular chapter/essay… which is more than a little ironic since that is the moment in his life where he just wrote and wrote and wrote - and that helped him develop the skills that I am so in awe of today… that make him something of a national treasure. His sharp insight into both the personal and the political is deeply pointed, and refreshing. He challenges the reader - by challenging himself - to really deeply consider the world through the eyes of the ‘other’... and calls on us to be our best possible selves - to live our lives guided by love, faith, grace, generosity and compassion. Another must read title for 2022. Highly recommended.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Sasha

    Since I'm an avid fan of Elamin's writing and his podcasts, I was predisposed to like this book. (I also feel like I know the author already, which is why we're apparently on a first-name basis.) I wasn't disappointed - his humour and hope that permeate his other work are certainly present here. This memoir paints a picture of a multifaceted, complex person - someone who manages to find beauty and meaning in such disparate things as The OC, country music, nu metal (??), and the 401 highway. As s Since I'm an avid fan of Elamin's writing and his podcasts, I was predisposed to like this book. (I also feel like I know the author already, which is why we're apparently on a first-name basis.) I wasn't disappointed - his humour and hope that permeate his other work are certainly present here. This memoir paints a picture of a multifaceted, complex person - someone who manages to find beauty and meaning in such disparate things as The OC, country music, nu metal (??), and the 401 highway. As someone who doesn't follow pop culture - and especially music - super closely, there were sections that probably went over my head and didn't have the emotional resonance they were supposed to. At the same time, I felt like some deeply personal, tragic moments were covered with a bit of light touch (honestly, I never blame memoirists too much for this, because I know they are protecting the most vulnerable parts of themselves from the world and some things are better dealt with in therapy). All in all, the book left me wanting to read more from Elamin and - as others have noted - grateful that he's part of the Canadian media landscape.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Lauren

    I finished this book today and then shortly after headed to a book launch event at a local library. I was already sitting there with so many emotions after finishing Son of Elsewhere and then getting to hear Elamin Abdelmahmoud give more context and insight into the book and his history and the process of writing the essays just added to the whole experience. While my experiences are vastly different to Elamin’s and his family’s experience in immigrating to Canada, I’m the child of an immigrant s I finished this book today and then shortly after headed to a book launch event at a local library. I was already sitting there with so many emotions after finishing Son of Elsewhere and then getting to hear Elamin Abdelmahmoud give more context and insight into the book and his history and the process of writing the essays just added to the whole experience. While my experiences are vastly different to Elamin’s and his family’s experience in immigrating to Canada, I’m the child of an immigrant so I saw bits and pieces of my mom and family in his stories. Honestly, I’ll read anything by Elamin (his tweets included) but if you haven’t picked this up yet, don’t wait! But also his work as a journalist is amazing: https://www.buzzfeednews.com/author/e... and specifically this one https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.buzz... For more reviews/bookish thoughts, check out aninfinitebookshelf on Instagram or aninfinitebookshelf.wordpress.com

  20. 4 out of 5

    Lindsay Smith

    I love Elamin’s writing and his insightful analysis and thoughtfulness around culture and politics. This memoir is everything I’d hoped for. It’s beautifully written. For anyone who has to drive the 401 everyday to get to work (hi, it’s me) to feel moved by the lyrical, heartfelt essays on that godforsaken highway, you know it’s a wonderfully written book. It’s his story of coming to Canada from Sudan at the age of 12, and finding his way, his identity, his voice. Falling in love with music that I love Elamin’s writing and his insightful analysis and thoughtfulness around culture and politics. This memoir is everything I’d hoped for. It’s beautifully written. For anyone who has to drive the 401 everyday to get to work (hi, it’s me) to feel moved by the lyrical, heartfelt essays on that godforsaken highway, you know it’s a wonderfully written book. It’s his story of coming to Canada from Sudan at the age of 12, and finding his way, his identity, his voice. Falling in love with music that expressed emotions he couldn’t yet. Hours spent driving from Kingston on the 401. He examines relationships and racism and family and identity. It’s got nostalgia and essays on music and The OC, and it made me smile thinking of how many of my own childhood and adolescent memories have also been carved along that highway. This memoir is compulsively readable, so heartfelt, achingly beautiful.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Marium Vahed

    I read this book in one morning, torn between reading slowly (carefully considering the force of each word) and reading slowly (wanting to feel all the things it would make me feel all at once and quickly). I ended up somewhere in the middle. As a student of Diaspora and Transnational Studies and a second gen Canadian, I was touched (and maybe even a bit jealous) at how beautifully, emotionally, and vulnerably Elamin conveyed the pain and joy of nostalgia and living in the third space. This is t I read this book in one morning, torn between reading slowly (carefully considering the force of each word) and reading slowly (wanting to feel all the things it would make me feel all at once and quickly). I ended up somewhere in the middle. As a student of Diaspora and Transnational Studies and a second gen Canadian, I was touched (and maybe even a bit jealous) at how beautifully, emotionally, and vulnerably Elamin conveyed the pain and joy of nostalgia and living in the third space. This is the sort of book that leaves you feeling raw and wistful for the rest of the day - and one that will be passed through the hands of every family member of mine (a queue has already formed!). Thank you Elamin for putting your heart on the pages of this memoir.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Adrienne

    An easy 5 stars from me! I loved every chapter, every paragraph. I met Elamin at Queen’s University. We shared some classes in our Gender Studies program and he plucked me out from my shyness and befriended me. I have always been in awe of his intelligence and charismatic nature. He is both incredibly friendly and intensely private. To get this insight into who he is and how he became who he is feels like a very special treat to be savoured. The scene he describes where he’s leaving his parents’ An easy 5 stars from me! I loved every chapter, every paragraph. I met Elamin at Queen’s University. We shared some classes in our Gender Studies program and he plucked me out from my shyness and befriended me. I have always been in awe of his intelligence and charismatic nature. He is both incredibly friendly and intensely private. To get this insight into who he is and how he became who he is feels like a very special treat to be savoured. The scene he describes where he’s leaving his parents’ home after an argument, believing he won’t be welcome to return, and then Allegria from Cirque du Soleil comes on his headphones *chefs kiss*. So real. Funny, insightful, emotional, brilliant, I could go on and on and quite frankly I don't think this review does this book justice. I love this book and we are lucky to have Elamin.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Shelley Gibbs

    I’m already a big fan of Elamin’s writing, and this ticked all of my favourite boxes – it’s big-hearted and funny and poignant and thoughtful and vulnerable and full of grace. This is a tale specific to immigrating to Kingston from Sudan as an adolescent, but universal in terms of documenting attempts to fit in when you feel like an outsider, as well as the push & pull of carving out an authentic identity while being mindful of both where you’re going and where you’ve come from. And as usual, El I’m already a big fan of Elamin’s writing, and this ticked all of my favourite boxes – it’s big-hearted and funny and poignant and thoughtful and vulnerable and full of grace. This is a tale specific to immigrating to Kingston from Sudan as an adolescent, but universal in terms of documenting attempts to fit in when you feel like an outsider, as well as the push & pull of carving out an authentic identity while being mindful of both where you’re going and where you’ve come from. And as usual, Elamin infuses everything with pop culture touchstones that perfectly capture feelings and moments in time.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Karen

    This is a lovely book. Elamin’s words draw you in and pull you to read further than you otherwise might. He perfectly captures the immigrant experience of kids trying to fit in while also navigating parental expectations/fears and has me believing that immigrant kids trying to make it home before curfew have sustained the taxi industry. He weaves light anecdotes with deep words of wisdom. I specially loved the chapter in which he spoke about how he met his wife. All in all a great weekend read.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Relena_reads

    So. Good. I appreciated reliving my own cultural touchstones through such a different lens. Abdelmahmoud captures the pain of identity formation, refracted through the need to please parents who have had a very different experience, and the extra filter of language and emigration. The Road chapters as connective tissue make so much sense, too. I'm not sure if people significantly younger or older than me would feel as completely connected as I did, but I've had numetal stuck in my head for days. So. Good. I appreciated reliving my own cultural touchstones through such a different lens. Abdelmahmoud captures the pain of identity formation, refracted through the need to please parents who have had a very different experience, and the extra filter of language and emigration. The Road chapters as connective tissue make so much sense, too. I'm not sure if people significantly younger or older than me would feel as completely connected as I did, but I've had numetal stuck in my head for days.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Krista Spurr

    I've been a fan of Elamin Abdelmahmoud's writing for years and was blown away by his wonderful memoir. It's full of ideas and big feelings, navigating identity and belonging in a new country, finding your place through wrestling fanfic and The OC, and understanding who you are through what the tethers you to place. Mostly, I love how Elamin loves things, in the biggest way, with so much heart and enthusiasm, it's impossible to not want to do the same. I've been a fan of Elamin Abdelmahmoud's writing for years and was blown away by his wonderful memoir. It's full of ideas and big feelings, navigating identity and belonging in a new country, finding your place through wrestling fanfic and The OC, and understanding who you are through what the tethers you to place. Mostly, I love how Elamin loves things, in the biggest way, with so much heart and enthusiasm, it's impossible to not want to do the same.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Beth

    This sounds like hyperbole but I am thankful, as a Canadian, that my country has writers like Elamin in it. This book was flawlessly written, taught me so much, and made me both laugh and cry. I pre-ordered the book with a bit of trepidation because I Elamin's adore podcasts (I miss Party Lines so much!)and his other writing, how could this live up? Turns out this book is even better, I'm not sure how he did it. I wish I could read this book again for the first time. This sounds like hyperbole but I am thankful, as a Canadian, that my country has writers like Elamin in it. This book was flawlessly written, taught me so much, and made me both laugh and cry. I pre-ordered the book with a bit of trepidation because I Elamin's adore podcasts (I miss Party Lines so much!)and his other writing, how could this live up? Turns out this book is even better, I'm not sure how he did it. I wish I could read this book again for the first time.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Tuma

    Read the book in one day. Beautifully captures the feelings of those of us who are constantly battling who we ought to be according to our parents wishes and who we want to be. There were many times I stoped and reread a page because of how much it resonated with me. Only downside to the book was that I didn’t understand many references (the shows and songs) as I am younger and didn’t grow up in that era.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Janeschmidt

    Such a beautiful read. I finished with tears in my eyes. An evocative story of a young person trying to find themselves in a new country, while trying not to lose sight of their homeland and history. Sharply observed, and tender in its raw honesty, this is a story where so many folks will be able to see and understand themselves in its context. Highly, highly recommended. Also? I’m newly inspired to listen to country music, Sudanese music and watch The OC!

  30. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    Beauitfully and playfully written, vulnerable and tender, generous and open hearted. Gorgeous work, Elamin! So many lovely and fun moments but the most surprising and enjoyable to me were the essays about the 401 - I didn't know I needed essays about longing, love, home and the history of the 401 but I really did! Beauitfully and playfully written, vulnerable and tender, generous and open hearted. Gorgeous work, Elamin! So many lovely and fun moments but the most surprising and enjoyable to me were the essays about the 401 - I didn't know I needed essays about longing, love, home and the history of the 401 but I really did!

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