The Angel of History by Rabih Alameddine

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“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

 

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