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.
Alameddine is a writer with a boundless imagination, and his latest book feels almost completely unrestrained. In the hands of a less gifted author, that could be a problem. But Alameddine's writing is so beautiful, so exuberant, that the reader is willing to go along with the ride, no matter how wild it is. And it does get wild — some passages approach stream-of-consciousness, but there's nothing in the novel that's remotely self-indulgent ... The Angel of History isn't just a brilliant novel, it's a heartfelt cry in the dark, a reminder that we can never forget our past, the friends and family we've loved and lost.
The Angel of History is a remarkable novel, a commentary of love and death, creativity and spirituality, memory and survival ... The depths of despair Jacob enters is heartrending. If it weren’t for Alameddine’s gift with language, and his ability to present Jacob’s wounds in such a poetic manner, the novel could have been unbearable ... Structural issues aside, I forgave all when I read the ending. It’s a beauty ... an AIDS book that will hopefully re-enliven the genre.
Like Alameddine’s last book, the National Book award-shortlisted An Unnecessary Woman, this is a story of one life and many themes: in this case, death and sex; religion; war; the purpose of art and of love and loss; and the need to remember. 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.