Out of Place

by Said, Edward W

Amazon Review

Edward Said is one of the most celebrated cultural critics of the post-war world. Of his many books of literary, political and philosophical criticism, at least two have become classics.Orientalism is a brilliant analysis of how Europe came to dominate the Orient through the creation the myth of the exotic East, while the monumental Culture and Imperialism has redefined our understanding of the impact of European imperialism upon the shape of modern culture. As a thinker, Said’s career 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 memoir, Out of Place is a particularly significant event. This is 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 the Lebanon, and the often paralysing embrace of his loving but often overbearing parents. Said’s memoir is powerfully informed by his sense of personally, geographically and linguistically “always being out of place.” Born to Christian parents, caught between expressing himself in Arabic, English and French, Said evokes a vivid but often very unhappy portrait of growing up in Cairo and the 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 that deal with Said’s education at Princeton and Harvard, Out of Place is, as Said 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 conflicting relationship towards 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 which has movingly come to terms with “being not quite right and out of place.” – -Jerry Brotton


“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”