Son of Elsewhere
A Memoir in Pieces
#1 NATIONAL BESTSELLER
From one of the most beloved media personalities of his generation comes a one-of-a-kind reflection on Blackness, faith, language, pop culture, and the challenges and rewards of finding your way in the world.
Professional wrestling super fandom, Ontario's endlessly unfurling 401 highway, late nights at the convenience store listening to heavy metal—for writer and podcast host Elamin Abdelmahmoud, these are the building blocks of a life. Son of Elsewhere charts that life in wise, funny, and moving reflections on the many threads that weave together into an identity.
Arriving in Canada at age 12 from Sudan, Elamin's teenage years were spent trying on new ways of being in the world, new ways of relating to his almost universally white peers. His is a story of yearning to belong in a time and place where expectation and assumptions around race, faith, language, and origin make such belonging extremely difficult, but it's also a story of the surprising and unexpected ways in which connection and acceptance can be found.
In this extraordinary debut collection, the process of growing—of trying, failing, and trying again to fit in—is cast against the backdrop of the memory of life in a different time, and different place—a Khartoum being bombed by the United States, a nation seeking to define and understand itself against global powers of infinite reach.
Taken together, these essays explore how we pick and choose from our experience and environment to help us in the ongoing project of defining who we are—how, for instance, the example of Mo Salah, the profound grief practices of Islam, the nerdy charm of The O.C.'s Seth Cohen, and the long shadow of colonialism can cohere into a new and powerful whole.
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.
BuzzFeed culture writer Abdelmahmoud debuts with an enthralling meditation on the joys and challenges of coming-of-age as an immigrant. When his family emigrated from Khartoum, Sudan, to Kingston, Ontario, in the late '90s, 12-year-old Abdelmahmoud was met with a rude awakening. As he writes in the title essay, "The friendly customs agent stamped my passport and said, Welcome to Canada'... left out the also, you're Black now, figure it out' part." In a series of essays run through with his charming wit, Abdelmahmoud articulates his life between worlds as something akin to "the hot, frothing outcome of two tectonic plates constantly crashing into each other." He reflects on navigating his Blackness in a glaringly white city, being Muslim in a post 9/11 world, and generational conflicts with his parents, brought to a head by his dating in college. Gradually, Abdelmahmoud begins to fashion a makeshift identity all his own, finding his "softest, most vulnerable self" in music (the essay titled "The O.C." finds its pathos in the eponymous show's soundtrack) and "building a language of touch and laughter" with his partner, Emily. Readers will be rapt by Abdelmahmoud's striking ability to forge a voice that's both raw and tenacious. Hilarious and somber, introspective and rollicking, this search for self is breathtakingly original.
I am filled with admiration that someone who only acquired English skills in his adolescence could write a rich book of such eloquence and complexity.