Book review: Talking about a Revolution, Yassmin Abdel-Magied

An exploration of resistance and revolution through a personal lens.

Yassmin Abdel-Magied’s Talking About a Revolution brings together 15 essays previously published in newspapers and magazines together with eight new works, across two parts. They are all loosely connected by the overarching theme of revolution, discussing moments in Abdel-Magied’s life that sparked personal change as well as ideas that are evolving in society.

Abdel-Magied’s introduction sets up some big aspirations in the pieces to ‘strip back the layers of story, myth and obfuscation’ and ask what is really going on and how can we improve? However, she regularly misses achieving this aspiration with essays that are densely written, repetitive and hold back from exploring beyond her own experience. 

Part One focuses on Abdel-Magied’s personal experiences, with most works touching on how her career in Australia came to an end. These essays are often raw and deeply passionate. Her ideas and experience are gripping to read but also exhausting due to they ways in which she structures and writes these pieces. For example, in the essay,’ Islam and Social Justice’, she describes an incident on ABC’s television show, Q&A, where she tries to clarify what Sharia law is in a heated situation.

She layers this moment by describing in detail what Sharia law is, in between detailing the incident itself. It makes the essay dense as the reader is attempting to picture the incident and its ferocity while balancing this with learning about Abdel-Magied’s religion and perspective. The moment is too full and so the incident ends up feeling under-explained. The language in this section is full of long sentences and seemingly never-ending paragraphs that only makes reading the work more tiring. It’s a writing style she perpetuates regularly through Part One, making the writing seem too raw. For essays that describe moments so revolutionary to Abdel-Magied’s life, it’s unfortunate that they are difficult to understand.

Abdel-Magied reintroduces herself in almost every work through Part One as an engineer, Muslim and Sudanese-Australian. It makes sense for her to re-instate who she is in various essays in their original context, a magazine or news article. However, within 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 tidy up this repetition?

Many of the essays are written through Abdel-Magied’s lived experience and so the context of her life does matter to the work. For example, she does this well in ‘To All The Cars I Have Loved’, where she briefly notes why she stands out at car events but fails to continue that approach in other essays. Instead, it creates a sense that the reader isn’t relied upon to be able to remember who she is and it puts the book’s overall experience on the backfoot.

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Part Two stands as the strongest section; it is a clever mix of using lived experience to pierce social issues but could do with delving a little deeper. Abdel-Magied uses this part of the book to examine the exterior world through her own eyes, asking questions and providing analysis. This approach is where all her passionate, conversational tone and inquisitive nature comes together and the essays are satisfying. Her insights on the world are valid and strong but half revealed. She often represents the world through her eyes alone. She skips investigating the world through collecting other people’s experiences, even when she has the opportunity to do so.

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

Talking About a Revolution shows the beginning of the writer’s publication journey and the work she has written along the way. Sometimes that means the essay are less effective, and while it would’ve been appropriate to edit them for to reduce repetition and linguistic clarity, that wasn’t done. The book finishes with essays that show Abdel-Magied has her best essays ahead of her because it is in these new works and looking beyond herself that she finds her stride. Revolution is just beginning for this writer and her style.

Talking About a Revolution by Yassmin Abdel-Magied
Publisher: Penguin
ISBN: 9781761044595
Format: Paperback
Pages: 288 pp
RRP: $34,99
Publication Date: 31 May 2022

Anita Sanders is a writer based in South Australia. She has written for radio, print and stage including The City street magazine, Radio Adelaide and South Australian Youth Arts Company. She is a graduate of Flinders University’s Bachelor of Creative Arts (Creative Writing) and Deakin University’s Graduate Certificate of Business (Arts & Cultural Management).