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Unicorn: The Memoir of a Muslim Drag Queen
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Unicorn: The Memoir of a Muslim Drag Queen (Hardback)

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From a god-fearing Muslim boy enraptured with their mother, to a vocal, queer drag queen estranged from their family, this is a heart-breaking and hilarious memoir about the author's fight to be true to themself

My name is Amrou Al-Kadhi - by day. By night, I am Glamrou, an empowered, fearless and acerbic drag queen who wears seven-inch heels and says the things that nobody else dares to.

Growing up in a strict Iraqi Muslim household, it didn't take long for me to realise I was different. When I was ten years old, I announced to my family that I was in love with Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone. The resultant fallout might best be described as something like the Iraqi version of Jerry Springer: The Opera. And that was just the beginning.

This is the story of how I got from there to here: about my teenage obsession with marine biology, and how fluid aquatic life helped me understand my non-binary gender identity; about my two-year scholarship at Eton college, during which I wondered if I could forge a new identity as a British aristocrat (spoiler alert: it didn't work); about discovering the transformative powers of drag while at university (and how I very nearly lost my mind after I left); and about how, after years of rage towards it, I finally began to understand Islam in a new, queer way.

Most of all, this is a book about my mother. It's the journey of how we lost and found each other, about forgiveness, understanding, hope - and the life-long search for belonging.

BiographyMemoirs Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication Date: 24/09/2019 ISBN-13: 9780008306069  Details: Type: Hardback Format: Books
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Amrou Al-Kadhi is the founder of drag troupe Denim and has written an episode for Kumail Nanjiani & Emily V. Gordon's upcoming series for Apple (US), Little America, as well as for BBC America's hotly anticipated series, The Watch. Amrou has two original TV-series in development, one with Channel 4 Comedy and the other with BBC Drama. Amrou has written and directed four short films that focus on the intersection of queer identity and race, and has features in development with Film4, the BFI and BBC films. Their journalism has appeared in the Guardian, Independent, Gay Times, Attitude, CNN and Little White Lies, among other publications. Unicorn is Amrou's first book.

More books by Amrou Al-Kadhi

Customer Reviews

This is a heart-breaking but ultimately redemptive story about one person’s long and often tortuous struggle against their culture, race, religion, family and gender expectations, to ultimately become a glorious and joyful fusion of aspects of their past with their new found freedom, at peace with themselves and the world. The book is told in the first person, and is a very honest and no-holds-barred story of the author’s fight with themselves and with their environment. They are not always a likeable person, but having read the story, you can understand why they acted as they did – even if you may not always approve. I spent so much of the book being furious at the author’s parents (as did the author!). Even if they did not approve of their lifestyle, why could they not at least say – “we don’t understand you or your life choices, but we will always love you”. The author spent so much of their life feeling alienated by family, religion and the society that they experienced – all they needed was someone(s) to say “I love you” and “you belong”. Two moments brought tears to my eyes. The first (at the start of the book, but end of the story) when an Arab female, in full Islamic robes, after watching their drag show said: “Your song to Allah … it broke my heart. I’ve been there – I’m a woman living in Saudi Arabia. But the thing is, Glamrou – Allah loves you”. The second was when their mother FINALLY sent a message ‘Please take care of yourself habibi. Please. I love you so much.’ That message, and acceptance, finally lead to the author and their mother (whom they had adored as a child) becoming once more reconciled. The considerable trials and tribulations suffered by the author often hindered them from seeing the world from the point of view of others, in particular their mother’s and other women’s views. ‘Amrou. Amrou. You are so lucky to be a man.’ …‘Do you know what I have had to suffer because I am a woman? Do you know how hard life is as a woman? … Being a woman is hell. And you, my special Amoura, with your special brain, choose to be a woman, even though you are lucky enough to be a man? I don’t understand it.’ I began to understand the lengths to which she had been a victim of the patriarchy, and how my ability to transgress was in her eyes a patriarchal privilege. This book is not just about becoming a drag queen. It is about loving and accepting yourself, so that others will love and accept you. If you are not able to respect yourself, then you will always be vulnerable to exploitation and abuse – as the author found time after time. But few people can do it alone – most need someone special to encourage them and show them the way – a friend, teacher, a family member … The book also points out the crucial role that positive role models have on a person’s emotional development and maturity. For the author there were none from their race, religion, persuasion etc to latch on to when they needed it. (I kept thinking: what about Grayson Perry, Eddie Izzard, David Bowie, Elton John, Quentin Crisp? – all white, and not all gay. Leo Varadkar is not white, but does not dress in drag). Of course, nowadays with the internet – and Rupaul’s Drag Race – young would-be drag queens and LGBTQ+ persons have a lot of potential role models. But for a young Amrou Al-Kahdi there was no-one. This is not an easy book, but is a wonderful story to read and absorb - whatever your gender, sexuality, or life-choices. I received this copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

- 06/11/2019
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Extraordinary. Book of the year. Hilarious, heartbreaking, uplifting and life-affirming. A book that will make you laugh out loud at one moment, and weep in the next. A breathtaking story about defying all the odds on a quest to be yourself, at once so unlike anything you'll ever read, yet extraordinarily universal. I couldn't put it down. No book I've read in recent years has hit me with as much force emotionally, and made me feel so full of hope. Wow, wow, wow.

- 26/10/2019
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