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I’ve been reading ‘Life as a Unicorn’ by Amrou Al-Kadhi

This is the much-lauded 2019 memoir. It follows Al-Kadhi’s journey from being a child of a conservative Iraqi Muslim family, growing up in an enormous economic privilege in Britain, attending Eton and Cambridge, and ultimately finding solace in an identity as Glamrou, a exuberant gay drag queen.

Their story is unique and provides interesting insight into multiple facets of society. It is told with humour and warmth, though the tone is a little too informally conversational for my preference.

There were bits of the book that I didn’t really follow. This may well be due to my own ignorance of the modern understanding of personal identity. For example, I don’t really know what is meant in practice by “working tirelessly to make my identity political”—which is not to dismiss its importance.

There were more bits which made me long for a little more empathy from the author, and reflection on how their views and actions may make others feel. This particularly stood out to me when Al-Khadi described a relationship as making them “feel like I’d won a piece of the institution, by getting him to desire me”, within pages of disparaging broadly similar prejudices in the sexual preferences of others.

Maybe I’m being unfair in that expectation, but the narrative felt one-sided and Al-Khadi doesn’t seem to take responsibility for much. I suppose that’s the prerogative of an autobiographer.

I don’t mean to sound too hard on this book: I’m glad I read it and it gave me plenty of food for thought. However, I wonder if some of the rave reviews are perhaps more reflective of the remarkable bravery and force of will that Al-Khadi has shown in life than of the book itself.


Thanks to Newcastle University Library for lending me a copy.

This post was filed under: Post-a-day 2023, What I've Been Reading, .

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