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The Angel of History

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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 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 Egyptian whorehouse to his adolescence under the aegis of his wealthy father and his life as a gay Arab man in San Francisco at the height of AIDS. Hovered over by the presence of alluring, sassy Satan who taunts Jacob to remember his painful past and dour, frigid Death who urges him to forget and give up on life, Jacob is also attended to by 14 saints. Set in Cairo and Beirut; Sana'a, Stockholm, and San Francisco; Alameddine gives us a charged philosophical portrait of a brilliant mind in crisis. This is a profound, philosophical and hilariously winning story of the war between memory and oblivion we wrestle with every day of our lives.


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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 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 Egyptian whorehouse to his adolescence under the aegis of his wealthy father and his life as a gay Arab man in San Francisco at the height of AIDS. Hovered over by the presence of alluring, sassy Satan who taunts Jacob to remember his painful past and dour, frigid Death who urges him to forget and give up on life, Jacob is also attended to by 14 saints. Set in Cairo and Beirut; Sana'a, Stockholm, and San Francisco; Alameddine gives us a charged philosophical portrait of a brilliant mind in crisis. This is a profound, philosophical and hilariously winning story of the war between memory and oblivion we wrestle with every day of our lives.

30 review for The Angel of History

  1. 5 out of 5

    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

  2. 5 out of 5

    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 all 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. "Yemen is one of my favorite places, [said Death]...That nation has refreshed and rejuvenated me for centuries."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?”As it was in the beginning, said Satan, lying on my bed, so shall it be in the end, so shall it be first, last, midst, and without end, basically you’re screwed, Jacob, you know, the supremacy of Western civilization is based entirely on the ability to kill people from a distance….You can never win, Jacob.”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. One early memory is Jacob envying his older cousin, a schoolgirl who faced life silently, in a beige school uniform. Jacob tells us “My Halloween costume that year [was] a headscarf with two pink pigtails sprouting out of it…” An interview with Rabih Alameddine 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.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Sofia

    Alameddine is a rattler of cages, 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 rattler of cages, 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 https://theonenessofblackness.org/so-... http://www.sfgate.com/performance/art... A most worthy 29th Annual Lambda Literary Award Winner. read with Lena - in Lena's review there is a link to an excellent interview with the author Fits into slot 29 my reading challenge 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.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Josh

    (3.5) 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 (3.5) 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 FEEL; 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!

  5. 4 out of 5

    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 The Angel of History 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 The Angel of History 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’sThe Screwtape Letters. 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.” http://www.lambdaliterary.org/feature... 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

  6. 4 out of 5

    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.

  7. 4 out of 5

    LenaRibka

    29th Annual Lambda Literary Award Winner-Gay Fiction I decided not to write a review for this book. Not because I don't have thoughts to share. Rabih Alameddine said in one of his interviews, he wrote The Angel of History to provoke: When I said I wrote The Angel of History to provoke, I meant that I wished to elicit feelings that readers did not expect, not necessarily by using shock or surprise. I wanted to write a book that broke the fourth wall by playing with feelings, by switching pa 29th Annual Lambda Literary Award Winner-Gay Fiction I decided not to write a review for this book. Not because I don't have thoughts to share. Rabih Alameddine said in one of his interviews, he wrote The Angel of History to provoke: When I said I wrote The Angel of History to provoke, I meant that I wished to elicit feelings that readers did not expect, not necessarily by using shock or surprise. I wanted to write a book that broke the fourth wall by playing with feelings, by switching paradigms, by rattling cages. 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. The Angel of History 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. Interview with the author

  8. 4 out of 5

    Blue

    The Angel of History is about remembering. This much is clear from the very beginning. The angel of choice, we're reminded even by itself at some point, is Satan. He wants Ya'qub (or Jacob in his immigrant, gay SF life) to remember all the horrible things he has tried hard to forget so he can keep wallowing in self-pity and depression. A tug of war, thus, ensues between father Satan and son Death. Death, for his part, wants Jacob to finally give up, surrender, resign to forget in his welcoming a The Angel of History is about remembering. This much is clear from the very beginning. The angel of choice, we're reminded even by itself at some point, is Satan. He wants Ya'qub (or Jacob in his immigrant, gay SF life) to remember all the horrible things he has tried hard to forget so he can keep wallowing in self-pity and depression. A tug of war, thus, ensues between father Satan and son Death. Death, for his part, wants Jacob to finally give up, surrender, resign to forget in his welcoming arms, as it seems though remembering is difficult, forgetting entirely is impossible. The story is told in different narrative threads that weave in and out; a web of truths and paths that connect invisible, forgotten dots as they are revealed, if you will. Satan holds court with Death and fourteen saints who have, at one time or another, helped Ya'qub, slowly revealing things Ya'qub is not willing to remember, lies he tells himself, untruths he has precariously built to cover up the past. The testimonies of the saints as witness to Ya'qub's life cause him to remember, or erode his ability to keep forgetting. In a way, the novel is about witnessing, too (as Alameddine mentions in an interview that when there is nothing one can do, one can witness.) While Satan holds court in Jacob's apartment, Jacob has gone to the clinic to commit himself, all the while talking to his long dead lover and trying to shut out Satan's voice. It is in these conversations with his lover, often interrupted by Satan, Jacob remembers and recounts all that has led him here. As a poet who can no longer write poetry, Jacob has started dabbling in prose, attempting short, allegorical stories, and these stories along with sections from Jacob's notes make up the third (and fourth, if we're counting) narrative. At the end of the novel, Alameddine indicates that the life and work of playwright, poet and performance artist Wayne Corbitt (1952-1997), who lived in SF and died of AIDS, "were a big part of this book." Some of Corbitt's poetry that I gleaned after reading the book certainly aligns well with the novel, though it would be a huge injustice to say this story is about one person. Jacob is so many things, he is torn into a billion pieces trying to figure out who he is and who he is not and how to live with who he is. That he is an Arab, a Muslim who grew up in a brothel and was schooled in a Christian boarding school, a gay man who desires to be dominated...all make Jacob universal in his globe-trotting, immigrant, dark skin. Yet, there is a particular time and place for Jacob's sufferings: the height of the AIDS epidemic in 1980's San Francisco, the Arab revolution that started so hopeful, but descended into a tragic disaster, the war(s) against "the other" in the Middle East, fought by remote-controlled machines... And so Alameddine builds a whole world out of the ruins of this one we live in. The short stories are great interludes that break the expected ranting Jacob can be prone to in his state of mind. The story of the drone and boy who fall in love is exceptional, all the way from its xenophobic, hateful dialog to the homoerotic machine-on-flesh fantasy. The acerbic cynicism throughout the short stories, Satan's interviews, and Jacob's conversations with Satan are lulled briefly and frequently by the deeply sad, emotional passages where Jacob repeatedly recounts all that he has lost. These lost things are like the fourteen saints he must take inventory of. They are who he is, yet remembering them crushes him under the weight of his guilt and loneliness. The Angel of History is a masterpiece; it is expansive and implosive. It hides layer after layer of history, beauty, and grief. It can be savored dangerously and lives under the skin for a long time after. Thanks to Grove Atlantic for another fantastic novel, and to NetGalley for the digital copy.

  9. 5 out of 5

    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. 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.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Liz

    I was enthralled by Rabih Alameddine's Unnecessary Woman and I finish this new novel with immense respect for the author. RA recalls a life most of us could never know and perhaps not survive at all. His character, Ja'kub/Jacob, is in San Francisco but his life began far away in Beirut and his travels have left deep scars on his soul and his mind. This is yet again a brilliant piece of writing from Rabih Alameddine. I highly recommend the investment in time and thought for all readers! Thank You G I was enthralled by Rabih Alameddine's Unnecessary Woman and I finish this new novel with immense respect for the author. RA recalls a life most of us could never know and perhaps not survive at all. His character, Ja'kub/Jacob, is in San Francisco but his life began far away in Beirut and his travels have left deep scars on his soul and his mind. This is yet again a brilliant piece of writing from Rabih Alameddine. I highly recommend the investment in time and thought for all readers! Thank You Grove Atlantic, Netgalley, and Rabih Alameddine (pub 10/04).

  11. 5 out of 5

    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 https://bookstalkerblog.wordpress.com/ feel free to visit my blog

  12. 5 out of 5

    Doug

    I fared better with this than Alameddine's previous, NBA-nominated 'An Unnecessary Woman', which I found dull, slow-moving and tedious. Perhaps this storyline meant more to me, since, like the protagonist, I too lived through the early years of the AIDS pandemic in San Francisco. And this time I could appreciate the author's really exceptional prose style. What I had problems with were the religious underpinnings, not having been raised Catholic, so I am sure there are whole levels, especially t I fared better with this than Alameddine's previous, NBA-nominated 'An Unnecessary Woman', which I found dull, slow-moving and tedious. Perhaps this storyline meant more to me, since, like the protagonist, I too lived through the early years of the AIDS pandemic in San Francisco. And this time I could appreciate the author's really exceptional prose style. What I had problems with were the religious underpinnings, not having been raised Catholic, so I am sure there are whole levels, especially the fantastical ones involving Satan, Death, and the 'decommissioned' Fourteen Helper Saints which went right over my head... and which I thought mimicked Rushdie a bit too self-consciously.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Carol

    Witty, erudite, heartbreaking, crass, heavenly, furious, ascerbic, always creative. The wordplay is a delight, the sorrow incalculable.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer (the_pumpkin_reads)

    So Rabih's writing is unbelievably lush and beautiful and pained.. and I'm nearly embarrassed to write this but even after finishing, I'm not entirely sure what I read. However, to write a character list of 14 saints, Death, Satan, a cat named Behemoth (which, nice nod) and a group of gay men in the height of AIDS who all died before we ever 'meet' them? It's a testament to crisis. So Rabih's writing is unbelievably lush and beautiful and pained.. and I'm nearly embarrassed to write this but even after finishing, I'm not entirely sure what I read. However, to write a character list of 14 saints, Death, Satan, a cat named Behemoth (which, nice nod) and a group of gay men in the height of AIDS who all died before we ever 'meet' them? It's a testament to crisis.

  15. 4 out of 5

    miss.mesmerized mesmerized

    Satan has to have a word with Death, somethings wrong with Jacob and for quite some time they got along quite well. But now, Jacob, a poet by devotion, is looking for help in a psychiatric clinic. It is not the first time Jacob is there, but this time, things seem to be serious. While waiting for the doctor, he thinks back to the time when he was a child, first fleeing Yemen with his mother, then finding shelter in a whorehouse in Egypt. Years later his father puts him into a church school in Le Satan has to have a word with Death, somethings wrong with Jacob and for quite some time they got along quite well. But now, Jacob, a poet by devotion, is looking for help in a psychiatric clinic. It is not the first time Jacob is there, but this time, things seem to be serious. While waiting for the doctor, he thinks back to the time when he was a child, first fleeing Yemen with his mother, then finding shelter in a whorehouse in Egypt. Years later his father puts him into a church school in Lebanon. But also newer memories arise, his lovers whom died one after the other, his cat who picked Jacob and his roommate albeit they never wanted to care for a pet. Like this, the evening advances slowly. Admittedly, I had serious problems finding into the novel. The most problematic was that I could not perceive the different parts as belonging to the same book. The discussion between Satan and Death is quite absurd and funny, here Alameddine can really entertain the reader. Much more interesting but also depressing are Jacob's memories of his childhood, especially his time in Cairo which, due to the conditions, could have left deep scars and negative feelings but are remembered as a time of being loved and feeling secure. This all is at times interrupted by the poet's work of art which somehow does not relate at all to the rest and then the actual situation in the waiting room with his roommate sending texts to find out what is wrong. Rabih Alameddine has a poetic style of writing and to my perception, whenever we move with the plot to the Middle East, no matter which country, his is strongest in his expression and narration. Nevertheless, there was no real development in the character, action I did not expect from the description, but such as it is, I could not really make sense out of the story.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Sara

    This was an incredibly impact full and painful book exploring identity and loss. It was painful enough to read that I could only read it in small bites. The man character is a gay Arab man, Jacob, originally from Lebanon/Egypt and living in San Francisco. He's lived through seeing several friends and a couple lovers die within a 6 week period during the early days of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. He is left alone and the visions/voices/demons/angels he's had since childhood start to appear. He This was an incredibly impact full and painful book exploring identity and loss. It was painful enough to read that I could only read it in small bites. The man character is a gay Arab man, Jacob, originally from Lebanon/Egypt and living in San Francisco. He's lived through seeing several friends and a couple lovers die within a 6 week period during the early days of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. He is left alone and the visions/voices/demons/angels he's had since childhood start to appear. He "cures" them by taking psychiatric drugs. Flash forward a couple decades to the current day, and they've reappeared and include the voice of one of his dead lovers. The book opens with him in a waiting room at a psychiatric clinic and then includes several flashbacks to his earlier life along with scenes between Ilbis/Satan, Death, and some of the visions/voices/angels who are trying to dissect what's going on with Jacob. The visions include appearances by the 14 Holy Helpers who I was unfamiliar with, as they were eliminated from the Roman Catholic calendar and apparently suppressed by the Church, although they're still big in Eastern Rite church. Some of the scenes between Satan, Death, and the 14 Holy Helpers didn't quite work for me and the ending seemed abrupt. These are the only reasons I rated in 4 stars and not 5. I do think I'll purchase this one for rereading at some point. Also fair warning that this book is probably not for everyone due to it containing graphic sex/kink descriptions.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Joy Clark

    There are so many aspects to this book I'm not even sure where to begin. It opens with Satan and Death discussing Jacob - the protagonist. Jacob is a 50-something gay Arab living in San Francisco. He was raised in a brothel in Cairo, schooled (and bullied) in a French catholic school in Beirut, and has watched his closest friends die of AIDS at the height of the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s. The story switches between Jacob speaking to his late lover, Satan's discussions with Death and a host of s There are so many aspects to this book I'm not even sure where to begin. It opens with Satan and Death discussing Jacob - the protagonist. Jacob is a 50-something gay Arab living in San Francisco. He was raised in a brothel in Cairo, schooled (and bullied) in a French catholic school in Beirut, and has watched his closest friends die of AIDS at the height of the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s. The story switches between Jacob speaking to his late lover, Satan's discussions with Death and a host of saints, and a couple of allegorical stories that Jacob has written. The story is not overtly spiritual or religious. It is at times heartbreaking, infuriating, and even humorous. Like I said, there are so many aspects of this book that one could spend weeks trying to mull over the different themes and nuances. It provides a unique prospective, and for that alone it deserves recognition. Thank you to the publisher for providing me with an ARC through NetGalley.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Kathleen Gray

    More a philosophical discussion than a novel. The narrative in this (as well as the narrator) does not move in a straight line nor does it command the book. Jacob is an interesting interlocutor for Satan, the angels, and others. Thanks to Netgalley for the Arc. This is a thoughtful, challenging read.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Hussein Baher

    2.75 "death is no stranger to an arab" 2.75 "death is no stranger to an arab"

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jim

    In yet another jewel of literary fiction, Alameddine offers us Jacob, a poet with a unique and sad past (explained in other reviews). His life and worth are debated by Satan and his son, Death, often in Jacob's kitchen, with a cat, Behemoth, offering capricious gestures of affection and indifference. Jacob has checked himself into a psychiatric ward, because he keeps recalling his dead partner in floods of memories, as well as hearing the voice of Satan. Is he losing his mind via survivors' guilt In yet another jewel of literary fiction, Alameddine offers us Jacob, a poet with a unique and sad past (explained in other reviews). His life and worth are debated by Satan and his son, Death, often in Jacob's kitchen, with a cat, Behemoth, offering capricious gestures of affection and indifference. Jacob has checked himself into a psychiatric ward, because he keeps recalling his dead partner in floods of memories, as well as hearing the voice of Satan. Is he losing his mind via survivors' guilt? Will his dozen watchful saints return to his spiritual aide? This is not an easy book, nor a difficult one. Relinquish preconceived notions about gods and demons, and the story blossoms. The prose is rich, wry, and touching, but avoids melodrama, despite Jacob's difficult past. The conundrum of loss, remembering and forgetting, delusional or factual, become a main focus that ultimately offers hope.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    This is a beautiful book, but a difficult book. I went back and forth between loving and hating the prose, but even when I hated it there is no denying the writing is always beautiful. Alameddine certainly knows his way around a metaphor. The stream of consciousness style writing fit with the character's state of mind, but I'm not sure how big of a fan I am. Regardless this is definitely a book that I'll be thinking about for a long time after finishing. This is a beautiful book, but a difficult book. I went back and forth between loving and hating the prose, but even when I hated it there is no denying the writing is always beautiful. Alameddine certainly knows his way around a metaphor. The stream of consciousness style writing fit with the character's state of mind, but I'm not sure how big of a fan I am. Regardless this is definitely a book that I'll be thinking about for a long time after finishing.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Eddie Clarke

    Poetic, epic, emotionally intense - I really enjoyed this book and its vividly imagined manifold worlds. Beautiful.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Lori

    Thank you to NetGalley for sending me this book! I read this a month ago and have delayed in reviewing it, I have such mixed feelings. Part of it was brilliant, but part of it was incredibly painful. Our main character is the only survivor of his group of friends watched them all die during the AIDS epidemic of the 80s. In addition he is an illegitimate Arab by birth and altho born to a Muslim mother had his religion beat out of him by the Catholic boarding school. So this guy, to say the least, Thank you to NetGalley for sending me this book! I read this a month ago and have delayed in reviewing it, I have such mixed feelings. Part of it was brilliant, but part of it was incredibly painful. Our main character is the only survivor of his group of friends watched them all die during the AIDS epidemic of the 80s. In addition he is an illegitimate Arab by birth and altho born to a Muslim mother had his religion beat out of him by the Catholic boarding school. So this guy, to say the least, has a ton of inner turmoil to say the least. He in turn is drawn to masochistic sex. That's the painful part. It helps (altho not not necessary) IV you've read or are familiar with The Master and Margarita, for the devil that is trying to save him is similar to Woland, Plus Jacob has a cat named Behemoth, ha! Also from Bulgarov's masterpiece!!! Along with the devil, Jacob has saints to help him. This part is enchanting and at times very funny. I'm very glad I read this.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Allan

    A strange, yet powerful book, telling the story of a gay Yemeni immigrant living in SF with the serious psychological scars inflicted by the death of his friends during the AIDS crisis. Mixes present day with journal entries and narrative between Satan, Death and 14 religious saints, yet somehow works.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Derrick Burton

    While I found this book quite beautiful, I need to give it up. It was like all of the misery of A Little Life with none of the positives to balance it out.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jasmine

    https://www.theguardian.com/books/201... https://www.theguardian.com/books/201...

  27. 5 out of 5

    Zahra, meh.

    "You had friends, Satan said, you loved and were loved, you must not forget that, at least not that. But did I allow anyone in, I asked Satan, and he said, Did you, does anyone?" Page 246 "You had friends, Satan said, you loved and were loved, you must not forget that, at least not that. But did I allow anyone in, I asked Satan, and he said, Did you, does anyone?" Page 246

  28. 4 out of 5

    Tiah

    – Each time you bid farewell to a place, voracious flesh-eating fish swim up from your depths, vultures circle your skies, and your city's dead quiver with fury in their graves and band on their coffins, but then your homeland feels too paltry, a canoe tied to a branch by your mother's hair. – –I talk to you, but you're only in my head, and once I get rid of you, I'll be back to normal, get thee behind me, Satan. Walmart sells an oil for that, Satan said, it's called Satan Be Gone, a little dab w – Each time you bid farewell to a place, voracious flesh-eating fish swim up from your depths, vultures circle your skies, and your city's dead quiver with fury in their graves and band on their coffins, but then your homeland feels too paltry, a canoe tied to a branch by your mother's hair. – –I talk to you, but you're only in my head, and once I get rid of you, I'll be back to normal, get thee behind me, Satan. Walmart sells an oil for that, Satan said, it's called Satan Be Gone, a little dab will do ya. – – How can you not know your history? I yelled over and over. You with your righteous apathy, how can you allow the world to forget us, to delete our existence, the grand elision of queer history? – – I was wrong, I did write, time passed and I forgot, I wrote because I had nothing else to do in the world, I wrote, my voice as out of tune as I was. –  – "No," Satan said. "I had nothing to do with his mother-in-law." "I didn't think so," Death said. "That level of evil is way beyond you, she belonged to Jesus all the way." "Yes," Satan said. "Even I was surprised at such maleficence." –  – A poet is tormented by the horrors of this world, as well as its beauty, but he can be refreshed, reborn even; he can take to the sky once more. Think phoenix, not Icarus." – – Listen to me, Satan said, his eyes infused with flames, get thee out of Eden, poetry can never be unstained. –  – Walk of shame, my ass, I was sizzling. – – I prefer to be called the Cast-Out Angel, Fallen Angel is just wrong, I didn't fall out of Heaven, it's not as if I tripped or something, that would have been a big oopsie. –

  29. 4 out of 5

    Akira

    What can I say😐except I wanted to like this book way more than I actually did, & I’m honestly just glad I made it through it😶. I’m not going to lie the author is obviously talented and his play on poetry & prose is brilliant, but 🤦🏻‍♀️the useless rambling and poor structure was just too much.There were really memorable & important parts to it, but it was vastly overshadowed by its countless pitfalls.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Smith

    Sometimes brilliant in the use of a dazzling array of historical and religious references, but which occasionally I found overly self-conscious. Deeply moving in parts, but lacking for me final true emotional depth because of the frequently broken narrative and wanderings into not unrelated but seemingly unnecessary diversions. Maybe the intention was to mirror the troubled mental state, or maybe the peripatetic life, of the protagonist, but the devices seemed, whilst independently clever, more Sometimes brilliant in the use of a dazzling array of historical and religious references, but which occasionally I found overly self-conscious. Deeply moving in parts, but lacking for me final true emotional depth because of the frequently broken narrative and wanderings into not unrelated but seemingly unnecessary diversions. Maybe the intention was to mirror the troubled mental state, or maybe the peripatetic life, of the protagonist, but the devices seemed, whilst independently clever, more showy interruption than cohesive support.

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