'A profoundly beautiful novel that infolds the political with the personal in unexpected and new ways . . . An extraordinary book' Neel Mukherjee, New Statesman, 'Books of the Year 2016'
'His stories take the reader into the labyrinth that is the mind . . . The Angel of History is digressive and daring' the Economist
'Alameddine has created a scintillating, original work whose moral complexity and detail of observation are wholly contemporary and entirely his own' Spectator
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.
'Here is a book, full of story, unrepentantly political at every level. At a time when many western writers seem to be in retreat from saying anything that could be construed as political, Alameddine says it all, shamelessly, gloriously and, realised like his Satan, in the most stylish of forms' the Guardian
Alameddine's novel (following National Book Award finalist An Unnecessary Woman) is the inner monologue of Jacob, a poet in crisis, as he checks himself into a mental institution for a long weekend, leaving his beloved cat, Behemoth, in the care of a friend. Jacob was born in Yemen to a Lebanese father and Yemeni mother, raised in a Cairo brothel, educated by French Catholics, and lived as a gay Arab expatriate in San Francisco at the height of the AIDS epidemic an American who insists he doesn't "do Middle East conversations" and loathes the "poetry of nostalgia" but in whom the complicated experience of migration reverberates. Now interrogated by the specters of Satan and Death, who bring a host of saints to testify on Jacob's behalf, he spills his history the lovers who have come before, and his initiation in the queer subculture, maturation as a poet, and deep engagement with literature until it intersects with global history: the rise of al-Qaeda and wars political and personal, all playing out while Jacob sits in a hospital waiting room, wondering if he'll ever be called in. It's not really his sanity, but his identity as a poet, an Arab, and a gay man that hangs in the balance. The novel takes a nonlinear approach that is occasionally messy, but Alameddine brilliantly captures Jacob's mind as it leaps between memory and the present.