“AIDS was a river with no bed that ran soundlessly and inexorably through my life, flooded everything, drowned all I knew, soaked my soul, but then a soaking, a drenching, was not dying, and I swam, floated when I could, and I though I had triumphed, only to discover years later that the river’s persistence, its restlessness, trickled into tiny rivulets that reach every remote corner of my being…” p. 182
Rabih Alameddine’s new novel, The Angel of History, follows Ya’qub, through memories of his life during one day trying to be admitted to a psychiatric facility. Ya’qub, or Jacob as the west has renamed him, is a gay man living in San Francisco. Thirty years ago he lost five friends and his lover to AIDS, all within six months. Family, love, community, all gone. He has forgotten in order to survive, but at great cost. A cast of characters including Satan, Death, and fourteen defrocked saints who were originally prayed to by those suffering from the Bubonic plague, who comforted him in his childhood, compete in his mind and soul, Death pulling him towards the oblivion of forgetting, Satan and the saints toward the pain and reality of remembering, so he can live again. Ya’qub wants the voices silent. He wants to forget.
In prose both gorgeous and irreverent, Alameddine weaves a tale of what it costs to erase the past, how hard it is to remember, and how we are not whole without experiencing all of life, even that which threatens to break us. This book is a intricately woven piece of art that reads fluidly with anger, tears, heartbreak and laughter. A meditation on grief, an examination of current culture, a testament to the past and present, Alameddine blends the ancient with the modern in a novel that is not to be missed.
Interview with NPR
Interview with The Guardian
Booktalk with Professor Paul Eaton
More by Rabih Alameddine: (click any book cover to buy indie)