Grove Press
Atlantic Monthly Press
Atlantic Monthly Press

The Angel of History

A Novel

by Rabih Alameddine

The incendiary new novel by National Book Award finalist Rabih Alameddine, about an Arab American poet, whose adult life in San Francisco spans the AIDS decades, and his hilarious and heartbreaking struggle to remember and forget the events of an astonishing life.

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 304
  • Publication Date October 17, 2017
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-2719-8
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $16.00
  • Imprint Atlantic Monthly Press
  • Page Count 304
  • Publication Date October 04, 2016
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-2576-7
  • Dimensions 5" x 5"
  • US List Price $26.00

About The Book

Following the critical and commercial success of An Unnecessary Woman, Alameddine delivers a spectacular portrait of a man and an era of political and social upheaval.

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 fourteen saints. With Jacob recalling his life in Cairo, Beirut, Sana’a, Stockholm, and San Francisco, Alameddine gives us a charged philosophical portrayal of a brilliant mind in crisis. This is a profound and winning story of the war between memory and oblivion with which we wrestle every day of our life.

Tags Literary


“Rabih Alameddine is one of our most daring writers–daring not in the cheap sense of lurid or racy, but as a surgeon, a philosopher, an explorer, or a dancer.” —Michael Chabon

“Alameddine, entrancing and unflinching, is in easy command of his bricolage narrative, and he leavens its tragedy with wit.” —New York Times Book Review

“An elegy for a lost generation of gay men [and] a structurally inventive bildungsroman . . . The Angel of History marks the triumph of memory over oblivion.” —Bookforum

“The narrative spans every corner of the globe to reveal a razor-sharp mind in turmoil, reflecting a wider consciousness of the social unrest around him.” —Harper’s Bazaar online

The Angel of History takes place in a single day, but it reads like an epic . . . a sprawling fever dream of a novel, by turns beautiful and horrifying, and impossible to forget . . . Alameddine is a writer with a boundless imagination . . . [his] writing is so beautiful, so exuberant . . . When Alameddine aims for the heart, he doesn’t miss, and he hits hard . . . 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. It’s a raw love letter from those who survived a plague to those who didn’t.” —NPR.org

“A remarkable novel, a commentary of love and death, creativity and spirituality, memory and survival . . . brilliant . . . [it] hits an emotional nerve.” —Los Angeles Review of Books

“Excellent, lissome . . . the novel is a work of social and cultural memorialization . . . The Angel of History suggests that to be alienated—from past love and from the past itself—is to open the door to memory and creation . . . to read Alameddine’s prose is to see loss, if not mastered, then at least made into lively and living art.” —San Francisco Chronicle

“Laced with literary references . . . a kaleidoscopic storytelling style, and philosophical humor.” —New Yorker

“A poignant act of remembering by one AIDS survivor to a new generation . . . an evocative religious and sexual elegiac with both dark and stirring comedy . . . a poetic combination of Mapplethorpean imagery and religious symbolism. It’s uncomfortable and enlightening; an experiment in merging the present with the past, in merging a gay life characterized by assimilation with a gay life celebratory of its deviancy. It dances between the ecstasy of sexual release and the ecstasy of religious rapture . . . an unforgettable novel. The Angel of History is cathartic tale of outsiders and insiders and what’s lost in becoming each.” —PopMatters

“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.” —Guardian

“Alameddine has created a scintillating, original work whose moral complexity and detail of observation are wholly contemporary and entirely his own.” —Spectator

“Alameddine has beguiled us with his insight and compassion. His stories take the reader into the labyrinth that is the mind . . . presenting the existential drama of a single human life.” —Economist

“A stylish gem constructed of love and loss. All of it forms a glorious excess of life, death, and haunting memory . . . Alameddine [is] a daring and perceptive storyteller.” —Bay Area Reporter

“Smart, impassioned . . . The Angel of History is Alameddine at his best . . . he’s becoming an indispensable writer.” —Toronto Star Tribune

“[Alameddine’s] colorful syntax, his unique paralleling of communities (homosexuals, Arabs) and his intertwining of religious, sexual and popular imagery feel both important and exciting.” —Macleans

“A character study of a brilliant but tormented soul.” —Seattle Times

“While it is unflinching in its portrayal of sorrow, it also is wild, raucous, profane, sacred and uplifting.” —Daily Kos

“Alameddine’s novel resists easy taxonomies. Its mobility and nimbleness make it difficult to pin down—its subversive strategy turns irony back upon irony. Most impressively, it paints a portrait of a man beset on all sides by powers well beyond his ken, who nonetheless absolutely refuses to capitulate. He is a Bartleby with a conscience, a Gregor Samsa with a purpose, a Plume with real guts.” —World Literature Today

The Angel of History has cemented Alameddine as one of the leading queer novelists of our times, exploring outsiders in all their forms and resisting categorization.” —Muftah

“An unforgettable voice–erudite, ironic, profane.” —Newsday

“Ingenious . . . a richly textured novel that is a remarkable feat of imagination and a cry to remember a condition that not only still affects much of America but continues to overwhelm countries in Africa, Asia and elsewhere. The lapel ribbons may be gone, but the pain remains.” —Houston Chronicle

“Captivating . . . [these] remembrances of things past are delivered with insight, humanity and mordant wit.” —Mercury News

“Profound, brilliant . . . it offers insight into all the horrors and wonders associated with being that most otherworldly of beings: a human.” —Nylon

“Intricately woven . . . powerful . . . The language has a visceral edge to it . . . laden with meaning, symbolism and nostalgia . . . The Angel of History effectively tackles myriad themes pertinent to the day and age that we live in.” —New York Journal of Books

“Provocative, profound, and humorous.” —Lambda Literary

“Powerful . . . [a] majestically worldspanning narrative.” —The National

“Storytelling at its finest, a fabulist tale that explores how we grieve and how we succeed and fail in confronting our most painful memories . . . Alameddine uses the structure of his novel–as Proust did—to recreate the impression of memory. The Angel of History, with its fragmented, alternating, multiple points of view and multiple plots is a structural triumph.” —Numéro Cinq

“Alameddine’s greatest strength is his euphonious and lyrical prose. It reads like poetry, every word selected with a jeweler’s precision. The words have a rhythm and flow beautifully from the author’s creative and agile mind. The author’s signature erudition is displayed beautifully here with classical, religious, and artistic references that serve to inform and illustrate, and are never pedantic. All of these skilled devices serve to bring us a compelling tale of a complex man’s inner life and the loss and grief brought about by the AIDS crisis at its height.” —A&U Magazine

“In the spirit of Mikhail Bulgakov’s satirical masterpiece The Master and Margarita, Rabih Alameddine conjures an elegiac comedy with aplomb, his incantations rich with sincerity and irreverence . . . Alameddine is an entrancing storyteller, imbuing the quotidian with magnificence and undermining solemnity with sauciness . . . The Angel of History is outstanding, a novel that leaves a lasting mark.” —Shelf Awareness

“How does the mind grapple with transition, change, loneliness, and deterioration? Alameddine’s body of work is an extended meditation on this central question . . . With humor and wit, Alameddine reconfigures the self in exile and all its implications.” —Library Journal (starred review)

“Alameddine brilliantly captures [the protagonist] Jacob’s mind as it leaps between memory and the present.” —Publishers Weekly

“In this provocative portrait of a man in crisis, masterful storyteller Alameddine takes on some of the most wrenching conflicts of the day.” —Booklist (starred review)

“Alameddine is excellent at weaving literary references into his storytelling . . . A feverish portrait of a mind in crisis.” —Kirkus Reviews

“There are many ways to break someone’s heart, but Rabih Alameddine is one rare writer who not only breaks our hearts but gives every broken piece a new life.” —Yiyun Li

“Rabih Alameddine is a writer of conscience, of self-consciousness, of subconsciousness, of the great big global unconscious.” —Amy Tan


I’m the congenital immigrant, Doc, think about it. I left parts of me everywhere. I was born homeless, countryless, raceless, didn’t belong to either my father’s family or my mother’s, no one could claim me, or wanted to. I was a rug-burn baby, a Persian rug burn—my father, all of fourteen at the time, fucked my not-much-older mother right there on the Mahi from Tabriz while sunbeams played hide-and-seek among the furniture. Both pairs of knees chafed since they stole each other’s virginity canine-style and my mother could admire the exquisite deep blue rosettes surrounded by gold lancet leaves repeating all around her, her body on all fours right above the carpet’s main medallion, which looked like a fish rising to the surface of a pond at midnight to admire the reflection of the moon. That’s basically why that design is called Mahi, I think.

I’ve never seen the carpet, not once did my eyes fall upon that masterwork, or the penthouse apartment in Beirut’s Achrafieh neighborhood, yet my mind’s eye rewove the century-old treasure thread by silk thread since my mother never tired of describing it to me as a child. In luxury I came to be, she used to tell me, in remarkable beauty I was conceived, deep blue water, gold, cobalt violet toothed leaves that represented the scales of the fish, repeating patterns, ogees and swoops and arabesque arcs, over and over and over.


Literary Hub and Shelf Awareness Best Book of the Year