It's been awhile…
I'll be straight with you: this one's just promo for my book and movie (both out this week).
It was pretty naïve of me to start an advice column at the tail end of writing a book and the start of making a documentary. Turns out, they’re both very time consuming! And somehow both of these babies, gestating separately for the past several years, have decided to be born on the same week—this week.
While I truly hope to recover At Large eventually and sincerely apologize to the advice-seekers left in the lurch, I will for now simply abuse the power of this newsletter, ever so gently, to bring your attention to my first solo book, Praying to the West: How Muslims Shaped the Americas, and first solo movie, The Last Baron.
Forgive me if this is tacky, but I know that, as creatives yourself, you’ll appreciate the labour and occasionally agony involved in passion projects, and the neurosis that ensues once it’s out in the world. So here goes…
Yesterday, was my book’s release date! (Happy birthday, little one…)
Written over the last four years, Praying to the West is part historical travelogue, part memoir, part contemporary journalism. In it, I profile 13 remarkable mosques, from the Amazonia to the Arctic, and their congregants, exploring the rich complexity of Muslim identity on a Christian continent. For it, I travelled 7,000 miles and interviewed over 100 people in five countries and languages, right up until the pandemic hit.
Rather than me tell you why I think you should read it (if you follow me on Twitter, you’re probably sick of hearing it anyway), I've assembled a collection of praise for Praying to the West from sources more reputable than me including, as of today, The Wall Street Journal! (Reviews below.)
If it sounds like something you know you’re going to buy, I’d be grateful if you ordered it today because first week sales are essential to an book’s viability. As excited as I am to learn that it’s currently an Amazon #1 Bestseller in Religious Groups & Communities Studies, and #2 in Journalist Biographies (one spot ahead of Peter Mansbridge’s Off the Record—eat it, Mansbridge!), the truth about Amazon lists is they’re quite meaningless. It’s the traditional bestseller lists that make or break a book, and those are really hard to crack if a book doesn’t make a debut splash.
Of course, if you're only mildly curious, simply borrow a copy from your library or demand—er, request a copy if it doesn't have one. Or drop by on my (mostly virtual) book tour.
A comedic documentary called The Last Baron, it follows the meaty saga of a rogue fast-food chain with mysterious origins and a cult following, run by a loose network of fiercely independent Arab Canadian immigrants (like my parents). A highly personal story, I wrote, directed, co-produced, and—to the extent that one can “star" in a documentary—starred in it.
It’s made quite a splash since premiering last Friday (for free) in Canada on CBC Gem, garnering some delightfully nostalgic tweets from unexpected Burger Baron fans Senator Paula Simons and NDP leader Rachel Notley, and this genuinely delicious review by Twyla Campbell in Eat North.
The 45-minute documentary is available free, but I’m also crowdfunding to finish a 90-minute version that my team can take to international markets, touring film festivals around the world, playing in indie American and Middle Eastern movie theatres, and eventually get on streaming services like Netflix and Prime.
We’re more than halfway toward our first goal to finish it, with plenty of awesome perks for donors, including personalized movie posters and these delightful, hand-crafted Burger Baron miniatures (the detail on that mushroom sauce is truly astonishing!).
PRAISE FOR PRAYING TO THE WEST
“Absorbing … (Mouallem’s) book has made it impossible not to see this faith tradition’s rich complexity.” – BOOKPAGE (starred review)
“This essential examination of places and faces of the Islamic diaspora ambitiously travels the pre-pandemic world with high-stakes curiosity and professional dexterity … I really can’t recommend this collection of such nuanced understanding enough.” – EDMONTON JOURNAL
“Mouallem’s curiosity—about the promise of a global ummah and his personal relationship with Islam—is inviting and engaging. His journalistic style informs, while his spiritual inquisitiveness encourages self-reflection. A necessary meditation on the richness and multiplicity of Islamic history and practice.”
–DESMOND COLE, author of The Skin We’re In
“Praying to the West is certainly a testament to [Mouallem’s] journalistic acumen, full of well-chosen and vividly rendered stories. The book is a peripatetic illustration of how many people, often scattered and marginal, practice Islam in the Americas. It’s when he is chronicling the plight of these people that Mr. Mouallem is at his best.” –WALL STREET JOURNAL
“Mouallem is one of Canada’s most masterful nonfiction writers and there’s no one I’d rather follow on a journey like this: across centuries, around the world and into intimate corners of family and personal history. With a deep generosity of both intellect and heart, he offers a rich and complex view of Muslim communities, and of his own ever-evolving relationship to the faith.” –RACHEL GIESE, 2018 winner of the Writers’ Trust Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Boys
“(Mouallem) visited mosques from the Arctic Circle to the Amazonia, exploring Islam’s deep roots in himself and the Americas and crafting a striking portrait of both.” –MACLEAN'S
“What a towering achievement this book is and what a gift to have Mouallem guide his readers through its complex and urgent explorations.” –KAMAL AL-SOLAYLEE, 2017 winner of the Writers’ Trust Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Brown
“Omar Mouallem has excavated so many buried stories of Islam’s relationship with this part of the world, and in doing so created a timely, vital, and thoroughly readable biography. This is a book that eschews easy answers and generalizations, and the result is both honest and kaleidoscopic.” – OMAR EL AKKAD, bestselling author of American War and What Strange Paradise
“Part memoir, part historical study and cultural critique, this is personal writing that digs deep into what shaped the author.The perceived world around him creates a piece of literature with a broad-spectrum appeal.” —RAT CREEK PRESS