The Angel of History

Jacob, the aging Arab American poet in The Angel of History, has kept company with death for years, watching every close friend he has known wither away in the AIDS epidemic. Now Death is holding court with Satan and a host of saints in Jacob's San Francisco apartment, the poet's fiendish cat Behemoth their only audience, as Jacob flees in search of his sanity. In the spirit of Mikhail Bulgakov's satirical masterpiece The Master and Margarita, Rabih Alameddine (An Unnecessary Woman) conjures an elegiac comedy with aplomb, his incantations rich with sincerity and irreverence.

Born Ya'qub to the young Yemeni maid of a wealthy Lebanese family, the illegitimate child of the couple's son, the poet knows strife from the beginning: seeing his mother degraded in a brothel, being stripped of his dignity by nuns at his Catholic school, his heritage and sexuality stirring hatred in the hearts of Americans. These memories, prompted by Satan, flash through Jacob's mind against his will as he waits to see a psychiatrist.

Alameddine is an entrancing storyteller. As endearing as he is ribald, Jacob is the remnant of a generation lost to illness, shouting at oblivious young gay men, "How can you not know your history... how can you allow the world to forget us... the grand elision of queer history?"--even as he would like nothing more than to unlearn his own painful past. The Angel of History is outstanding, a novel that leaves a lasting mark. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness

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