Middle East/North African Lit discussion

The Last of the Angels
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2011cruise book diving(official) > The Last of the Angels by Azzawi (July/September 2011)

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message 1: by Marieke, Former moderator (new) - added it

Marieke | 1179 comments Mod
Happy July!
I have my copy of The Last Of The Angels: A Modern Iraqi Novel and will begin reading very soon. I will also return to edit this post with some background information, but in the meantime, feel free to begin posting your thoughts if you are reading this book. :D


Anne (On semi-hiatus) (reachannereach) I thought we were doing Saudi Arabia first. Uh oh.


Anne (On semi-hiatus) (reachannereach) I just checked. We're supposed to start all four books at the same time? How does this work?


Anne (On semi-hiatus) (reachannereach) Okay, luckily the Iraq books are on Kindle. But I cannot read four books at once. What are other people doing? Is the discussion of all four books to start now?


message 5: by Marieke, Former moderator (new) - added it

Marieke | 1179 comments Mod
oh no! you can start in whichever order you like! we are totally free form. i'm not sure yet if i am leading the discussion for one of the Saudi books or not, but i do know i am leading this one and i have the book so i thought i'd start a thread. if you want to start with the Saudi books and come back to this later, that is absolutely fine, Anne!

We'll be setting up all four threads very soon so that they are ready for people. but it's not meant to imply you should be reading all four books at the same time! or even that you must read all four books (although i really really want to!)


Anne (On semi-hiatus) (reachannereach) I have all four now. I don't want to start with the Saudi books. For some reason I thought the group was starting with those. Both the Iraq books are available on Kindle, so I just down-loaded them. I'll start with Iraq.


message 7: by Marieke, Former moderator (new) - added it

Marieke | 1179 comments Mod
okay! just so long as you don't feel pressured to do things in a way you don't feel like doing them. reading is supposed to be fun. :D


Anne (On semi-hiatus) (reachannereach) I was just surprised. I'm used to groups where we read books at the same time and then discuss them. But now that I think of it, that's not how it worked in this group over the last two months. I'm fine with it. Just getting oriented.


message 9: by Marahm (new)

Marahm | 31 comments This format is new to me, too, and I expect I'll like it. In addition to flexibility, the simultaneous threads gives readers a chance to read comments from various participants at different times.


message 10: by Marieke, Former moderator (new) - added it

Marieke | 1179 comments Mod
we like to think of it as organized chaos with the aim of encouraging participation (in the group). it's also because this group is very international and not everyone is able to get all the books where they are living. so with a selection over a two-month period, hopefully everyone who wants to participate will be able to get at least one of the "official" books...and if not, we have the salon.
:D


message 11: by Catherine (last edited Jul 05, 2011 04:17AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Catherine  Mustread (cuiblemorgan) | 41 comments End of Chapter 3, page 62. Minor Spoilers. [But most of this same info is found on the back cover of the paperback copy I've borrowed from the Painted Desert Campus of Northland Pioneer College in Navajo County AZ.] Finding this difficult to get into but I'm turning the pages anyway.

Set in Kirkuk, Iraq in the 1950s a guy whose nickname becomes "Nylon" due to a pair of stockings, loses his job as a chauffeur with a British family and becomes the inspiration of a group seeking revolutionary changes.

I'll be glad to read other people's thoughts on this book which will maybe help me feel more involved and interested in the storyline.


message 12: by Marieke, Former moderator (new) - added it

Marieke | 1179 comments Mod
Catherine, i'll start it tonight. i had planned to start it over the weekend but a very long public library book was staring at me. my renewals for that book are limited, but not with this one (because i brought this one home from work).

interesting that you are finding it a bit difficult to get into. do you think it is the style or the subject matter?


Catherine  Mustread (cuiblemorgan) | 41 comments Marieke wrote: "....interesting that you are finding it a bit difficult to get into. do you think it is the style or the subject matter? "

Marieke, thanks for your response and question. You got me thinking enough to go back to the beginning of the book and start over. (Now on page 33 of the re-read.)

I think my biggest problem is that I don't understand what's going on and how the characters are all related -- if they are -- and how much is fantasy/supernatural. The madman for instance and the jinni. So many characters have been introduced and I find it difficult to keep them all straight.

On the first reading I was hoping that it would become more focused and I would know what to pay attention to, but I haven't yet found that to be the case.

I loved the humor in the part (p.13) about mixing dung beetles and raisins and eating the runaway raisins first for the others will stay where they are.

Here's a link to a review by Belle of the Books I found in which the reviewer seems to have a similar reaction to understanding the novel. I agree with her about it being a unique view of Iraq -- which I'm sure is why this group is reading the title.

Here are links to other reviews that I skimmed but haven't had a chance to read yet but look promising:

All in One Boat
Socialist Review
Quarterly Conversation
Leap in the Dark


message 14: by Marieke, Former moderator (new) - added it

Marieke | 1179 comments Mod
I started last night Catherine, and i became immediately aware of just how little i know about modern Iraqi history. The first chapter really throws a lot at us! all the ethnic issues, social issues, traditional superstitions and prejudices. I also am thinking that this book deals with some similar problems that Cities of Salt deals with: the impact of the oil industry on middle eastern societies. however, so far i think Cities of Salt is better written. but i'm not very far in this book so all of these first impressions might change for me.

i also laughed out loud at the raisin scene.

my copy as a book club reader's guide and an interview with the author. i will see if any of that material will help with clarifying things for us.

For the time being, as far as characters go, i'm just focusing on Fatima and her husband. But i'm just in the first chapter...

thanks for the book review links!


message 15: by Hesper (new)

Hesper | 39 comments Just started this, and am only a few pages in, but it seems to be moving along at a good pace.


message 16: by Marieke, Former moderator (new) - added it

Marieke | 1179 comments Mod
Hesper wrote: "Just started this, and am only a few pages in, but it seems to be moving along at a good pace."

i set it aside to read something i forgot i needed to read by July 10. oops!
but i'll be taking it up again over the weekend.


Catherine  Mustread (cuiblemorgan) | 41 comments Page 122, middle of Chapter 6 - No spoilers --
I re-read the first 62 pages and pushed on with a clearer understanding of what's happening. The plot is like a maze wandering around into dead-ends with a variety of characters. Nylon is now more of a minor character, but is perhaps the central figure around which the maze has been constructed. Still find it hard to follow the motivations of the characters, book due back by 7/21 so need to keep pushing myself to get through this.


message 18: by Hesper (new)

Hesper | 39 comments I've only finished the first chapter, but if it is any indication, then the whole book will probably follow a non-traditional narrative. For me, this was encapsulated in the focus shift from Hameed's woes to the mob praying for rain, which was hilarious. It sounds like the rest of the book follows that pattern?


message 19: by Niledaughter (new) - added it

Niledaughter | 2793 comments Mod
How is this book going , still can't find it in Arabic and I do not want to read it in English :(


message 20: by Hesper (new)

Hesper | 39 comments I had it to return it to the library unfinished because I couldn't renew it; it went back on my TBR list.

Only made it about three chapters in, and I'm not sure what to make of it. It's got some really funny moments, but at time I felt like there was a world of (cultural) context I was missing.


message 21: by Marieke, Former moderator (new) - added it

Marieke | 1179 comments Mod
i set it aside because people seemed to be gravitating to the Baghdad Burning discussion and that book seems like a much quicker read, so i had thought i'd take it up first. i've only read a chapter of this book, but i will be finishing it, hopefully this month. Catherine, are you still reading it?


Catherine  Mustread (cuiblemorgan) | 41 comments I finished it, but had to read it quickly. Didn't get as much out of it as it probably deserves. Here's a link to my review.


message 23: by Marieke, Former moderator (new) - added it

Marieke | 1179 comments Mod
Catherine wrote: "I finished it, but had to read it quickly. Didn't get as much out of it as it probably deserves. Here's a link to my review."

maybe after more of us have read it and the discussion develops and we pick your brain a little, you'll feel like you've gotten more out of it. :D
maybe?


Catherine  Mustread (cuiblemorgan) | 41 comments Marieke wrote: "maybe after more of us have read it and the discussion develops"

Yes, Marieke, I'm sure that will be true. I'll be following the discussion with interest.


message 25: by Sue (last edited Aug 23, 2011 11:04AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Sue | 628 comments I have finished the book and written a review. I would post a link but I haven't figured out how to do that. I actually rated it 3.5, 3 for the first part and 4 for the second. I found the first part difficult to follow with the line between satire, comedy and serious portayal of life very odd. In the second half, I found the reading became easier and I was able to read more at a time, which probably helped with continuity. I also was able to see the satire more easily as well as the magical aspects of the story.

I'm sure some of the story is less obvious to me for cultural reasons. I did find by the end of the book that I could feel the author's despair, see the reason for his exile, the reason the Iraqi people have a right to be skeptical of authority of any kind. Magic and magical ways appear to be the only way to overcome the evil ways of government, army, etc.


message 26: by Niledaughter (last edited Aug 24, 2011 04:54AM) (new) - added it

Niledaughter | 2793 comments Mod
It seems a difficult novel to read ? so strange that I was not even sure before if it was originally written in Arabic or English ..

I found this review , I can not get it all but may someone who read the novel find it useful

http://www.banipal.co.uk/book_reviews...


and this
http://www.socialistreview.org.uk/art...

So , did the novel give the image of a society harmony despite complicity ?


message 27: by Sue (last edited Aug 24, 2011 04:01PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Sue | 628 comments To me there seemed to be periods of harmony interrupted by episodes of disharmony. I was glad to see magical realism applied to the novel in the 1st review. The reviews also clarified the time frame for me even more.

The un-reality of many parts of the novel makes some of it difficult to review but I am struck by one fact mentioned in both reviews. Chuqor(sp), the neighborhood in Kirkuk where the novel is set, is home to many different people, Islamic, Jews, Christian, the African barber, Turks, etc. And of course the English. With the exception of the English who are colonial rulers with assistance of the Iraqi government, these disparate people of Kirkuk manage to get along much of the time though they may malign each other verbally. Their attacks are aimed primarily at the English or the government.

I don't know if this is what you were asking Nile Daughter.


message 28: by Niledaughter (new) - added it

Niledaughter | 2793 comments Mod
Thanks Sue , I think I will try to get this one oneday , I just don't want to read it in English and this is the only availble way now :(

It seems a confusing read but has something to say ...


message 29: by Marieke, Former moderator (new) - added it

Marieke | 1179 comments Mod
i had to return my copy to the library at work but i will be able to bring it home again next week. now that i know it won't be a fast read, i'll be much more sensible about my time commitment with reading it. :D


message 30: by Sue (new) - rated it 3 stars

Sue | 628 comments I'll be very interested in the review of someone who is closer culturally to the author than I am. I do think there is a lot there. Maybe someday I'll read it again---I think I would understand the first part better now.


message 31: by Marieke, Former moderator (new) - added it

Marieke | 1179 comments Mod
Sue wrote: "I'll be very interested in the review of someone who is closer culturally to the author than I am. I do think there is a lot there. Maybe someday I'll read it again---I think I would understand the..."

well...i won't be that person. :( lol.


message 32: by Natalie (last edited Sep 27, 2011 01:12PM) (new) - added it

Natalie  | 59 comments I'm about halfway through the book and am liking it so far. In some ways, for example in the way the characters are drawn, the story reminds me of a fairy tale. The characters are not as "individualized" as you would find it in a contemporary novel, they all have a general feel to them, and I think that is also the reason why, for the first couple of chapters, I had trouble keeping them apart.

I'm looking forward to reading the other half of the book.


message 33: by Sue (new) - rated it 3 stars

Sue | 628 comments Natalie, I'll be interested in your views when you've finished though my memory for the details is fading somewhat.


message 34: by Niledaughter (new) - added it

Niledaughter | 2793 comments Mod
Natalie , I want to read your opinion as well , I tried to contact a friend who read the book in Arabic but failed , I really wish we had a chance to make the discussion of this book richer :(


message 35: by Marieke, Former moderator (new) - added it

Marieke | 1179 comments Mod
I still intend to finish reading this book. There was a policy change at work regarding taking books home and returning them, which totally messed up my reading plans for the coming weeks. now i must hurry up and finish the ones i have at home already before starting this one again. :(


message 36: by Natalie (last edited Oct 01, 2011 11:37PM) (new) - added it

Natalie  | 59 comments I finished the book yesterday. I loved the rich interplay of Arabs, Kurds, and Turkmen. A new geographical perspective opened to me and I truly enjoyed perceiving the world through an Iraqi perspective. For instance, the author referred several times to the rivalry between the Saudis and Iran. I had learned about this only a couple of weeks ago, when I read Robert Lacey's book. The casual way in which al-Azzawi refers to this rivalry deepened my understanding of local politics and has been a very enriching experience.

I thought that the last chapter was a bit weak, the lines between dreams, hopes, memories, and real encounters were too blurred and sometimes confusing. But then again, that may just have been the author's intent.

It seems to me that by spending 46 years waiting (and he refers to these 46 years again and again) Burhan Abdullah was obviously stuck in his life. The waiting prevented him from actively working through his childhood and youth, so that by the time he got to Kirkuk all those pent up and suppressed emotions were released at once.

Overall I noticed that the women in this book are either lust objects or ugly and bickering beasts, either way they do not seem to be capable of critical thought (for the most part). Balancing the male/female duality could prove to be an important step towards harmony. For instance, once Khidir Musa got in touch with his more intuitive (feminine) side, he developed considerable wisdom and in some way transcended the purely physical realm by being able to converse with Death himself. The same is true for the poet, Dada Hijiri, who as an artist also seems to have established a strong relationship to his intuitive, "feminine" side. These are just some of the thoughts that reading this book has triggered.

Overall I truly and deeply enjoyed the book; it clearly surpassed my expectations and is one of my favorites of this year.


message 37: by Niledaughter (new) - added it

Niledaughter | 2793 comments Mod
Natalie , Wow !!
You are really pushing me to find this book ! I guess at some point I may read it in English if I still can't find thye Arabic edition .

BTW , the last part about women in the novel and the (feminine) side of men very strange but I guess I would not get it without reading the book !


message 38: by Sue (new) - rated it 3 stars

Sue | 628 comments I'm a bit removed from the book now; it's been a while since I read it. I'm afraid I didn't see the masculine/feminine aspect in my reading, but the place of women, definitely.


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