Son of Elsewhere: A Memoir in Pieces by Elamin Abdelmahmoud 

I’ve been excited to read this memoir for months. I’ve enjoyed Abdelmahmoud’s writing for years – even if I have never heard an artist, his profiles draw me in. His article about how things have changed forever, from earlier this year, kicked me in the ribs. In a good way, because it’s what I’ve been feeling. His political commentary on CBC is great. So when he announced pre-orders for his memoir were open, I hopped on the ol’ internet and pressed pre-order for an ebook.

And then I got the opportunity to get a hard copy to review for The Miramichi Reader? Reader, I was nearly overcome. 

Son of Elsewhere is a generous, thoughtful, wonderfully open memoir.”

I know I’m hyping this to the nth degree here, but my hype was justified. I started reading it the evening before its release (May 17th) and was immediately enchanted. A friend texted me after she finished it mid-week, and recommended it highly. Son of Elsewhere is a generous, thoughtful, wonderfully open memoir, full of twisty serendipity and clear-eyed, gracious reflection about his life’s journey thus far. Abdelmahmoud immigrated to Canada from Sudan at the age of 12, and this sudden, shocking change in his life is the opening to the memoir, the single event which re-routed his life. “I left Khartoum as a popular and charming (and modest) preteen,” he writes, “and I landed in Canada with two new identities: immigrant, and Black.”  

For all the confusion and homesickness and longings Abdelmahmoud describes in his book, there is a great amount of joy and hopefulness. As a journalist his writing is positive, even when it’s not, and this optimism is found in his memoir too. I cried through most of chapter eleven, titled “Roads (Part IV),” a tender chapter about the 401 and how it carried him between his family and the love of his life, two things which could not always co-exist peacefully. I appreciated the history and explanations about Sudan woven into the story to provide the necessary context, knowing that I, like many in Abdelmahmoud’s audience, am a white Canadian who has little to no knowledge of Sudan. I never watched The O.C. when it was airing despite being in the target audience – and after reading Abdelmahmoud’s tender reflections on the show as an awkward kid, desperate to fit in, I might go watch it in full for the first time.  

This is a beautiful memoir, one of the best I’ve read in recent times. I read a memoir last year which made me hug the book to my chest when I was finished, because it was so peaceful, and I did the same with Son of Elsewhere. Not because it is a peaceful story! Abdelmahmoud doesn’t avoid talking about racism, or the pain of being Muslim in North America and seeing your practices weaponized, as well as the hate he receives for being a writer with a visibly Muslim name. The pain of losing your home, of not being Canadian enough, of not being Sudanese enough. This is the Elsewhere Abdelmahmoud refers to throughout his book: living between two worlds, of inhabiting this space where you try to marry all of the threads that make up your world together. 

I’ll be revisiting Son of Elsewhere periodically. It’s thoughtful and funny, but it’s also remarkably sincere. How wonderful that we’ve been given this memoir! The book has such a peaceful, flowing structure, even when it’s going wrestling fan fiction to nu metal. A true gift. 

ELAMIN ABDELMAHMOUD is a culture writer for BuzzFeed News and host of CBC’s pop culture show Pop Chat. He was a founding co-host of the CBC Politics podcast Party Lines, and he is a contributor to The National’s At Issue panel. His work has appeared in Rolling Stone, the Globe and Mail, and others. When he gets a chance, he writes bad tweets.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ McClelland & Stewart (May 17 2022)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Hardcover ‏ : ‎ 280 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 077100222X
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0771002229

 -- Website

Alison Manley has ricocheted between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia for most of her life. Now in Halifax, Nova Scotia, she is the Cataloguing and Metadata Librarian at Saint Mary's University. Her past life includes a long stint as a hospital librarian on the banks of the mighty Miramichi River. She has an honours BA in political science and English from St. Francis Xavier University, and a Master of Library and Information Studies from Dalhousie University. While she's adamant that her love of reading has nothing to do with her work, her ability to consume large amounts of information very quickly sure is helpful. She is often identified by her very red lipstick, and lives with her partner Brett and cat, Toasted Marshmallow.