Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Remaining Samuel by Samuel Rafael

Regular readers of Bending the Bookshelf will no doubt recognize the name Samuel Rafael - next to yours truly, Samuel has been (by far) our most prolific contributor of reviews. Having had the chance to get to know him, I jumped at the chance to give his memoir an early read, and am delighted to share my review with you all.

Remaining Samuel is, as you might expect, a story about gender and the transgender experience, but it is not all about gender. After all, gender is only a part of our lives (albeit a big part), and not what solely defines us. As Samuel Rafael shares here, what truly defines us is a mixture of passions, responsibilities, thoughts, and feelings - all within the context of family and friendships. We carry within us the essence of who we are, but how we express that is shaped by the world around us.

The honest explorations of gender dysphoria, sexuality, and transitioning are sure to touch a lot of readers. Samuel has struggled with a lot of questions and doubts over the years, asking himself the same things so many of us have asked ourselves. It is in those questions that we find the common ground to truly identify with his story, even if the answers we come (or have yet to come) to ourselves are not always the same. For instance, there are some questions of faith here that fell flat for me, but many of the family aspects hit hard, particularly those involving Samuel's parents, his wives, and (tissue alert, that is a difficult aspect of the story to read) his son.

At first, the narrative style feels a bit jarring or perhaps a bit clinical, but I suspect Samuel chose it to provide a little emotional distance - and it does become comfortable rather quickly. Intellectually fascinating and emotionally charged, Remaining Samuel takes a while to approach the 'big' questions of gender identity and transitioning, but it is understanding the context that makes his ultimate decision easier to understand.

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