This is a brilliant book. It’s heartbreaking, funny and beautifully written. Following the story of Amrou (or Glamrou when in drag), the memoir is an exploration of conflicting identities: Muslim, queer, non-binary, Arab, drag queen. With an unflinching gaze, Amrou examines their life from childhood until the present, focusing particularly on their relationship with Mama (role model and inspiration) and with friends and partners.
The book’s title is eye-catching by any standards. It certainly got my attention because of the immediate contrast suggested by the words ‘Muslim’ and ‘drag queen’. It’s fascinating how Amrou goes on a journey which finally reconciles their Islamic faith with queerness, after fearing going to hell for being gay and then voicing Islamophobic views in an attempt to fit in with white, British, Christian peers. Amrou’s experience of moving from the Middle East to Britain did allow more freedom but it also emphasised their outsider status.
Amrou was under heavy parental pressure to conform, both to the standard of a good Muslim son and society’s standard of what a man is. This manifested as OCD in academic success. I liked that this was included in the book, as I think it’s important to communicate that when parents deny children’s self-expression, this is harmful and can have devastating effects on mental health. There was so much sadness in this book. Most upsetting was how Amrou’s parents reacted with such emotional cruelty. They’re not bad people but their cultural background and respectable position in society encouraged them to reject their son’s way of life. On a positive note, Mama in particular is not distant at all by the end. Elements of wry humour throughout the book mean you won’t always have tears in your eyes, but really this is as much a painful story as it is an empowering one. However, I enjoyed reading it and I loved the writing style.
I know that unicorns are very on trend – you might cynically say that the book title is exploiting that – but there’s a good reason why they appear in the book.
Thank you to the publisher 4th Estate for the advance copy via NetGalley. This book will be published on October 3rd.