Book review: Let’s talk about a revolution, Yassmin Abdel-Magied

At Yassmin Abdel-Magied Talk about a revolution brings together 15 essays previously published in newspapers and magazines as well as eight new works, divided into two parts. They are all loosely linked by the overarching theme of revolution, discussing moments in Abdel-Magied’s life that sparked personal changes as well as evolving ideas in society.

Abdel-Magied’s introduction sets up big aspirations in the plays to “stripping down the layers of history, myth and obfuscation” and asking what is really going on and how can we improve? However, she regularly fails to realize this aspiration with essays that are densely written, repetitive, and impede exploration beyond her own experience.

The first part focuses on Abdel-Magied’s personal experiences, with most works addressing the end of his career in Australia. These essays are often raw and deeply passionate. Her insights and experience are captivating to read but also exhausting because of the way she structures and writes these pieces. For example, in the essay “Islam and Social Justice”, she describes an incident that occurred on the ABC television show, Questions and answerswhere she tries to clarify what Sharia is in a heated situation.

She layers this moment by describing in detail what Shariah is, between the details of the incident itself. This makes the essay dense as the reader attempts to imagine the incident and its ferocity while balancing this with learning about religion and Abdel-Magied’s perspective. The moment is too full and the incident ends up feeling under-explained. The language of this section is full of long sentences and seemingly endless paragraphs that only make reading the work more tiring. It’s a style of writing that she consistently perpetuates throughout the first part, making the writing too raw. For essays that describe such groundbreaking moments in Abdel-Magied’s life, it’s a shame they’re hard to understand.

Abdel-Magied reintroduces himself to almost every work through the first part as an engineer, Muslim and Sudanese-Australian. It makes sense for her to reaffirm who she is in various essays in their original context, a magazine or a news article. However, inside a book, it becomes repetitive and weighs down the flow. In the introduction, Abdel-Magied notes that she edited the previously published essays, so the question becomes: why didn’t she put that repetition away?

Many essays are written from the lived experience of Abdel-Magied and therefore the context of his life matters to the work. For example, she does this well in “To All The Cars I Have Loved”, where she briefly explains why she stands out at car events, but fails to pursue this approach in other essays. Instead, it makes the reader feel like they don’t have to remember who she is, and it puts the overall experience of the book on the back burner.

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The second part is the strongest section; it’s a nifty mix of using lived experience to drill into social issues, but it could be worth digging into a bit more. Abdel-Magied uses this part of the book to examine the outside world through his own eyes, asking questions and providing analysis. This approach is where all of his passionate, conversational tone and inquisitive nature come together and the essays are satisfying. His ideas about the world are valid and strong but half-revealed. She often represents the world through her eyes alone. She avoids investigating the world by collecting the experiences of others, even when she has the chance.

Her essay ‘To The Moon’ is an illustrative example of this as she uses her experience with cryptocurrency to educate the reader on this new financial system. As she gets involved and visits groups, she doesn’t share anyone else’s experience and so the essay feels one-sided and sometimes critical of the people involved in that space.

Talk about a revolution shows the start of the writer’s publishing journey and the work she wrote along the way. Sometimes this means that the essay is less effective, and although it would have been appropriate to modify them to reduce repetition and linguistic clarity, this has not been done. The book ends with essays that show that Abdel-Magied has her best essays ahead of her because it is in these new works and looking beyond herself that she finds her rhythm. The revolution has only just begun for this writer and her style.

Talk about a revolution by Yassmin Abdel-Magied
Publisher: Penguin
ISBN: 9781761044595
Format: Paperback
Pages: 288 pages
MSRP: $34.99
Release date: May 31, 2022

Angela C. Hale