A man awaits his fate at a San Francisco psychiatric hospital. His partner is dead. Nearly an entire generation is gone. But not all is lost for our hero, Jacob, born Ya’qub; he is the product of a brief tryst between a powerful man in Beirut and a woman from Yemen who later takes her gifted son to live in a Cairo whorehouse to thrive under the care of a voluptuous auntie named Badeea. Back in Lebanon, more or less ignored by his father, he’s so savagely beaten by bigger boys at a Catholic orphanage that his battered body must be sent to Sweden. In San Francisco, years later, he’s an Arab male and a homosexual and one of the last of his kind — everyone else felled either by the great calamity of AIDS or the furious meat grinder that is life as an Arab. Oh, and he talks regularly with Satan. And the Devil.
There’s plenty of reason to go crazy in “The Angel of History,” a new novel by Lebanese American writer Rabih Alameddine. Author of the daunting but exquisite 2014 novel “An Unnecessary Woman,” which was a lush portrait of a love affair with literature, Alameddine — sometimes described as “splitting his time” between San Francisco and Beirut — this time offers up a much more tart and rigorous read, a densely layered and ultimately agonizing series of stories in which our hero is haunted by a past he can’t seem to allow himself to forget. Read more