The Angel of History

The Angel of History

Following the critical and commercial success of An Unnecessary Woman, Alameddine delivers a spectacular portrait of a man and an era of profound political and social upheaval.Set over the course of one night in the waiting room of a psych clinic, The Angel of History follows Yemeni-born poet Jacob as he revisits the events of his life, from his maternal upbringing in an E...

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Title:The Angel of History
Author:Rabih Alameddine
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The Angel of History Reviews

  • Macartney

    This is a near-perfect follow-up to Alameddine's first book--the mesmerizing, surreal and haunting Kool-Aids: The Art of War (probably the best AIDS "novel" I've ever read). The story here is intimate and focused (a gay poet raised in the Middle East living in San Francisco post-AIDS epidemic who is the sole survivor of his gay social circle) but mapped onto a structure that is grand and epic (Satan and Death battle for the poet's life, with cameos by 14 Saints who have protected the poet over t

    This is a near-perfect follow-up to Alameddine's first book--the mesmerizing, surreal and haunting Kool-Aids: The Art of War (probably the best AIDS "novel" I've ever read). The story here is intimate and focused (a gay poet raised in the Middle East living in San Francisco post-AIDS epidemic who is the sole survivor of his gay social circle) but mapped onto a structure that is grand and epic (Satan and Death battle for the poet's life, with cameos by 14 Saints who have protected the poet over the course of his life). Alameddine's focus is memory and its cost. What price do you pay to remember or to forget? How much is too much to pay? These eternal questions are deftly explored within an innovative structure which allows him to have fun while once again experimenting with narrative form. Fairly graphic gay sex scenes abound (and hot ones at that), which is refreshing for a recent National Book Awards finalist. I wonder how many fans of An Unnecessary Woman will follow him on his journey here. My only quibble with the book is that sometimes his innovative structure gets away from him, leaving me confused with what exactly was going on. But nothing a second and third read shouldn't take care of. Overall, a completely necessary tale of an AIDS survivor that feels both modern and period at the same time. In other words: timeless--just like Alameddine.

  • Nicole Hughes

    As brilliant and complicated as The Hakawati, and with the very best of Alameddine's signature brand of delightfully perverse humor, this is a book I'll be recommending to anyone and everyone I know who loves to read. Alameddine's imagination is limitless, which shows through the leaps between Jacob's memory and the present as he reveals his history with the help of a host of saints interrogated by Satan and Death.

  • Elyse Walters

    "While I were aliveI loved you while you were alive and I loved you still but I forgot

    for awhile. Forgive me, I couldn't obsess about you all the time, so you disappeared

    as if I'd bleached my memory, but you came back, you know, like a fungal

    infection--remember thrush, the white stains that attacked your innocent tongue,

    looked like the snowy down on old strawberries, we couldn't get rid of it, and you hated it and I hated it and you wanted it over".

    "You've been gone for decades, you hide dee

    "While I were aliveI loved you while you were alive and I loved you still but I forgot

    for awhile. Forgive me, I couldn't obsess about you all the time, so you disappeared

    as if I'd bleached my memory, but you came back, you know, like a fungal

    infection--remember thrush, the white stains that attacked your innocent tongue,

    looked like the snowy down on old strawberries, we couldn't get rid of it, and you hated it and I hated it and you wanted it over".

    "You've been gone for decades, you hide deep in my lakes, why now, why infect my

    dreams now?"

    Jacob, is an Arab, Yemeni born, son of a whore, a poet. 50-something years old.

    He is Gay....lived in San Francisco during the heights of AIDS.

    Jacob couldn't remember his partner, Greg's, last days. Satan provokes Jacob to talk to the fourteen saints rather than his dead hubby.....and contemplate the magnitude of his painful past.

    So...Jacob 'did' recall some memories...( troublesome as many were). Jacob and Greg were in a Gay Bookstore in the Castro District in San Francisco when they were stopped by two gay writers---RUDE guys! ( a Tom-something and a Bernard something).

    Tom-something was sharing about fulfilling his life long dream of visiting Burning Man.

    He wasn't a happy camper about the sand in his underwear...so by his 2nd day he became a bottom-less naked-noodle. Jacob was getting bored and annoyed by this guy when it only gets worse-- Tom's friend, Bernard-something, interrupts "his pretty friends's Burning Gross monologue", and informs Jacob that "this was Didion's book, except he called her the goddess, his gay eyes rose towards the ceiling in Pierre-et-Gilles devotion, I could imagine a halo or at least a tiara above his head. He never missed reading any of her books, he said. I admit I was surprised by both the

    insipidity of this pair and their assumed intimacy. I wished them gone, I wish me gone,

    get thee gone, get thee to a nunn'ry, why woulds't thou be a breeder of sinners?"

    While reading Rabih Alameddine's book....I recognize the authors style of writing using humor, and cynicism from having read "An Unnecessary Woman". This is a very different story of course ....but the writing is equally as gorgeous. Alameddine leaves us with themes to discuss about memory:( forgetting the past, distorting it, fragments, remembering, re-calling conversations, and the burden of traumatic memories, and regret). Rabih dramatically illustrates different ways memory can get us into trouble... using symbolism and storytelling.

    I really need to read all other books by Rabih Almeddine. His prose is beautiful, page after page... and the frailty and humanity of his characters are ordinary and extraordinary. ......I laughed a lot too!!!

    Thank You Grove Atlantic, Netgalley, and Rabih Alameddine

  • Trish

    This novel contains so much naked yearning, sadness, despair, and exhausted hilarity—poking fun at man’s powerlessness in the hands of Satan and Death accompanied by Angels—that we could be forgiven for imagining it a memoir. Alameddine has given us something rich upon which to sup, slowly, for there is much to assimilate. A poor Arab son of a whore (literally, as it turns out) is intellectually realized by nuns and priests in Beirut, schooling paid for by an absent father.

    The boy and his schoo

    This novel contains so much naked yearning, sadness, despair, and exhausted hilarity—poking fun at man’s powerlessness in the hands of Satan and Death accompanied by Angels—that we could be forgiven for imagining it a memoir. Alameddine has given us something rich upon which to sup, slowly, for there is much to assimilate. A poor Arab son of a whore (literally, as it turns out) is intellectually realized by nuns and priests in Beirut, schooling paid for by an absent father.

    The boy and his schoolmates discover his gayness early, and the rest of his life is nary a denial, only acceptance, and once he found his circle, a verbally rich and figuratively celebratory consummation. Consumption is the other half of the story, the harvesting of lives, the dropping away of the circle. Alameddine does not shrink from the most revealing descriptions of life, love, and death in the life of a little brown gay man, just giving us pieces sometimes, as though he can’t remember clearly. He probably can’t, which is how we get the feeling that this is something remembered rather than merely invented.

    This is not an easy read, there is so much thoughtful erudition here. Our eyes take in more than our brains can process. References to earlier works are everywhere apparent, some boldly proclaimed—Mikhail Bulgakov, Goethe, the Bible, the Quran—others we see faint outlines of in the swirl of colors and language that comprise invention, memory, and forgetting. This is a novel unlike any other, for that little brown gay Arab has given us something we have not seen before, all beauty and crescendo and wit and the most unbearable sense of loss. This is a revealing, naked novel that expresses a longing for acceptance, despair of a kindly world, and a stunning reversal—that hoarse, defiant shout, drenched in a kind of mad joy, into the void.

    The novel opens with Satan having a conversation with Death. Shortly we learn that the man they came to discuss, Jacob, has signed himself into a mental hospital…to check his despair. The man, the little brown gay Arab, had lost many friends to AIDS in the scourge. He wants both to forget and to remember. It is not just his life he must remember, but

    of it. All of his history, starting with his Yemeni blood. Satan tells us “forgetting is as integral to memory as death is to life.” It is not immediately obvious why we need to know this, and we are not sure we understand it anyway. We will forget it, and remember it again and again.

    Love between partners is a momentous thing, not easily found and not easily lost. It lasts forever, some believe, or its vestiges linger forever. It leaves a mark. One is not supposed to lose one’s partner to death in mid-life. It is cruel. It is unnatural. This is the place where Jacob finds himself, struggling through a life filled with losses since childhood. Now in adulthood, he should be expert at it. And there is some resilience there that we poke and prod with interest. How will Jacob respond to his challenges?

    Death, on the other hand, promises peace, lethe, forgetfulness, and silence. “Peace on demand, instant gratification.” Which will our confused and suffering Jacob choose? His answer is foreshadowed throughout the novel and has something to do with his covering angels. Despair is normal, despite Jacob’s need for a psych ward. Despair is what we get, sometimes. Forgetting and remembering…you can’t have one without the other.

    An

    gives some notion of his carefully hidden depths. This link has the conversation recorded in a noisy cafe. I prefer it, though there is also a written transcript. It is a messy, imperfect thing, this interview, but Alameddine is just so irrepressibly himself.

  • Sofia

    Alameddine is a

    , an irreverent, provacative, sarcastic, funny rattler of cages. If you are a reader with a free rein to explore all the books, the world around you and wish to stray into the land where drones roam, where poets cry, a land of delicious conversations, then you must of course read this.

    Will the poet decide to live again, yes with the loss, the pain, the memories and with the Holy Helpers and the ghosts of his friends and lovers helping him or will he choose to forg

    Alameddine is a

    , an irreverent, provacative, sarcastic, funny rattler of cages. If you are a reader with a free rein to explore all the books, the world around you and wish to stray into the land where drones roam, where poets cry, a land of delicious conversations, then you must of course read this.

    Will the poet decide to live again, yes with the loss, the pain, the memories and with the Holy Helpers and the ghosts of his friends and lovers helping him or will he choose to forget - walk along the way of the pills, bringers of cloudy memory. Is Alameddine taking a last dig at our Western world, a world which tends to forget it's past in a miasma of 'can do's', buzz words, righteous deeds. How can we know the way forward without taking with us from whence we came. Makes for lost people.

    I was extremely touched by two of the short stories included in this narrative, The Drone and The Cage in the Penthouse. They made me smile, they made me sad, they made me angry and they showed me a world that I do not want to claim as my own.

    Although fantastical Alameddine's writing is very firmly grounded in our world. Not the world that we like to imagine but the real one. The one where there is war, injustice, betrayal, politicians etc, need I say more. So I was reading, enjoying, smiling, getting angry and nodding at the same time because yes I had had these thoughts while that happened to me or when I read about that happening there. So if you need escapist literature this is not the book that you are looking for.

    An immediate 5 star rating - with no need to think further about the rating.

    Wayne Corbitt - Alameddine said that this story was partly his

    read with Lena -

    there is a link to an excellent interview with the author

    Fits into slot 29

    A book with an unreliable narrator - because Ya'qub like each and everyone of us is unable to really see himself in all his glory.

  • Lena♥Ribka

    I decided not to write a review for this book. Not because I don't have thoughts to share.

    said in one of his interviews, he wrote

    to provoke:

    I decided not to write a review for this book. Not because I don't have thoughts to share.

    said in one of his interviews, he wrote

    to provoke:

    Well, I can say now, with his new novel, the author achieved what he intended to do.

    I am not sure I've ever read something like that before - a prose that can be read as a poem, because it is written in such a beautiful and lyrical way.

    Though the most amazing thing about this book, along with the writing style - is how the author talking about such serious topics like war, religion, politics, hate, love, AIDS, death, grieving, forgetting not just made me cry, but he also made me laugh. Believe or not, this book is also funny. I always admired this skill by writers.

    is insanely brilliant and Rabih Alameddine's writing is provokingly ingenious. Even if I don't fit into his idea of a perfect reader for his books -

    I'm going to read everything he wrote or will write.

  • Josh

    This one was such a hard one to rate for me. I really enjoyed 'An Unnecessary Woman', but at times, this one seemed a little cheesy with the devil/death/angel dialogue, but at other times it was very poetic, sad and everything I look for in a highly emotional book: I found some passages that made me want to read them over and over. Alameddine's creativity with words and structure put this closer to a 4 than a 3, but I can't make myself push it over the 'edge' any more than I've done so.

    If

    This one was such a hard one to rate for me. I really enjoyed 'An Unnecessary Woman', but at times, this one seemed a little cheesy with the devil/death/angel dialogue, but at other times it was very poetic, sad and everything I look for in a highly emotional book: I found some passages that made me want to read them over and over. Alameddine's creativity with words and structure put this closer to a 4 than a 3, but I can't make myself push it over the 'edge' any more than I've done so.

    If you're a fan of his work, please check this one out for the prose alone. Underneath all the symbolism, there is a story full of sorrow, loneliness and misery that will make anyone

    ; so much pain written by the main character/narrator as it pours out of him.

    I received this from NetGalley for an honest review. Look for this on your bookshelves in October of this year!

  • Lolly K Dandeneau

    "Since I began to drop the pail in the well of my memories, I’ve had no rest, no slack for that rope. Whoosh fell the bucket and up came salty recollections.”

    Memory is a monstrous beast, biting- forcing us to remember things better forgotten. Satan wants him to remember all the ugly things, death pushes the black, vast emptiness of forgetting as they play with Jacob. Jacob, poet, son of an Egyptian whore, a gay Arab man devastated by the AIDS epidemic later in life. Surrounded by saints, from Ca

    "Since I began to drop the pail in the well of my memories, I’ve had no rest, no slack for that rope. Whoosh fell the bucket and up came salty recollections.”

    Memory is a monstrous beast, biting- forcing us to remember things better forgotten. Satan wants him to remember all the ugly things, death pushes the black, vast emptiness of forgetting as they play with Jacob. Jacob, poet, son of an Egyptian whore, a gay Arab man devastated by the AIDS epidemic later in life. Surrounded by saints, from Cairo to San Francisco- some of the story breaks your heart. “Me, through and through, from skin to soul, I am sullied and soiled.” With tremendous loss, Jacob can no longer write, a wordless poet is madman. “I stopped writing for a while after you died, my inkpot dried, not just my tears.” Everything that has happened has brought him to this devastation, this crossroads. Embrace Satan, or Death- the 14 saints? Is memory concrete? Can we trust it? Is forgetting healthier, is remembering the heart of every moment of our lives? This is a unique journey, I can’t think of another book I have read about a gay Arab. Is being the only one left a punishment, it certainly seems at times to be a curse to lose so many, to be stranded with punishing memories while watching so many die from a brutal illness. There were terrible memories, abuses, the whorehouse upbringing was at times a stone sinking my heart particularly his mother’s hopes and devastation. There is a war with his mind, with loss, grief, his own country, his desires and urges. It is funny and cruel, confusing, distracting, everything a life is made of.

    This is an original novel, I absolutely devoured An Unnecessary Woman- Alameddine writes like no other, the characters in this particular story are incredibly difficult for just any author to tackle. The memories of his experience in the Christian boarding school was brutal for me to read, not all writers can take you into the sludge of someone’s most horrible moments and drown you with the character, leaving the story under your skin for days as The Angel of History is beneath mine.

    As with An Unnecessary Woman, the reader plunges into a life foreign from their own and yet can’t help but find connections. This is a vastly different world from my own, and yet it isn’t, because at heart- gay, straight, ill, healthy, american, Arab- in the end recollection is cruel and kind to us all.Hashing over your past is a bit like fighting with Satan and Death… We are all sullied and pure depending on what we remember of the moments in a life.

    Publication Date: October 4, 2016 Grove Atlantic, Atlantic Monthly Press

    feel free to visit my blog

  • Jean

    How would I feel if I had watched my partner suffer from a cruel, incurable disease? How long would it take me to get back to “normal”? Would I ever stop grieving her, my love, my wife? Would I lose my mind? Would I seek admission to a psychiatric hospital to find peace?

    When I read about Rabih Alameddin’s

    on the National Public Radio website, I knew that I had to read this book. It sounded so unusual, so poetic. I found that to be the case, but unfortunately, I wasn’t as ena

    How would I feel if I had watched my partner suffer from a cruel, incurable disease? How long would it take me to get back to “normal”? Would I ever stop grieving her, my love, my wife? Would I lose my mind? Would I seek admission to a psychiatric hospital to find peace?

    When I read about Rabih Alameddin’s

    on the National Public Radio website, I knew that I had to read this book. It sounded so unusual, so poetic. I found that to be the case, but unfortunately, I wasn’t as enamored with the book as I’d hoped to be.

    Jacob – pronounced “Ya-qub” in his native Yemen – and reduced to “Jake” in the US (to his dismay) is a poet who works in a law office. As he sits in the waiting room of a psychiatric clinic, we are privy to his thoughts, his mental rants, his grief, and his longing.

    This is not an ordinary novel. I wished I could see it performed on stage. Seeing the interviews between Satan and Death brought to life would have been amazing because reading them often amused me to the point of laughing out loud. On page 5, Satan refers to St. Francis of Assisi saying, “I loathe that narcissistic nincompoop of a saint.” Death agrees, calling him, “Holier-than-thou, PETA-idolizing numnuts.” Initially, their conversations reminded me a bit of Screwtape and Wormwood in C.S. Lewis’s

    . Alameddine’s characters are acerbic, irreverent, witty, and painfully honest at times. Jacob’s “14 Holy Helpers” make appearances during the interviews, and we meet his cat, Behemoth, “Satan’s cat.”

    Jacob struggles to remember his long-dead partner, who died of AIDS. He also struggles to forget. His tortured mind drifts in and out to his childhood days. His teenage mother was a prostitute. Jacob himself was bullied by peers and abused by nuns who taught him. As a gay man, he was passive and craved emotional intimacy while tolerating a lot of emotional abuse. Jacob recalls many incidents of sexual encounters as a boy and as a man – more than I cared to read. For a man so vulnerable, he is unguarded in the way he bares his past. But he is obviously tormented by his demons. Imagine losing not only your lover, but also losing so many of your friends to AIDS within a six-month period. Who is left to lean on, to confide in? This gay, dark-skinned Arab – never an easy identity, especially not at the height of the AIDS epidemic – a man who had been through so much, now battles the monsters in his own head. But, as Satan says, “Sanity is overrated.”

    There is much to contemplate about this book. Can we control our memories? Can we choose what to remember and what to forget? Despite the patches of humor and the creative storytelling approach, I found this an extremely challenging read. About halfway through, I started to skim because I found the pace and format confusing, and eventually, Jacob’s journal ravings became too much to bear.

    The author acknowledges friends, family, and readers who helped in the creation of this book, but I suspect that he draws from his own experience as well. At one point, Jacob calls himself “grumpy.” In an interview with Lambda Literary, the author says, “Anyway I am no longer gay – I’ve transcended that. I’m creating a new sexual and political identity: I’m grumpy. It’s post-post-post gay…The Grumpy Cat – that’s my mascot.”

    I read many five-star reviews for The Angel of History, and while I admire the book’s themes and symbols, its suffering and its humor, I found the style much too unsettling for my taste. Rabih Alameddine is a wonderful writer, and I regret that I could not engage more with this novel.

    2.5 stars

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