Review: The Last of the Angels
Kirkuk, Iraq, the 1950s. The day Hameed Nylon loses his job, and gains an unfortunate nickname, is the day that his life begins: dismissed as a chauffeur when rumors surface that he propositioned his British boss’s posh-tart wife, Hameed finds his true calling as a revolutionary in an Iraq that is destined for a sea change. Also bent on bucking the system is Hameed’s brother-in-law, the money-scheming butcher Khidir Musa, who runs off suddenly to Russia to find two brothers who have been missing since World War I. And the key to their fate is held by a seven-year-old boy, Burhan Abdallah, who stumbles upon an old chest in his attic that allows him to speak with three white-robed old men, beings who inform him that they are, in fact, angels.
Review and Grade: C
This is yet another book that I know with enough thought and clarity I would appreciate more, but as it stands most of the book went right over my head. I attribute part of it to cultural differences, part to the fact that I didn’t realize it was a satire and part to the fact that I kept starting and stopping my way through it. I don’t have specific complaints about the book, just that I really didn’t get a lot of it. However, having done more research AFTER reading, I’ve come to appreciate it significantly more and a lot of things made more sense with more information.
The writing is interesting and seriously plot driven and the characters are so complex they are almost hard to understand. There were some aspects of the story that I wish were followed through more or explained better, but the story was already so densely packed with information, I suppose it was just fine.
I loved getting a unique view of Iraq. The different perspective was probably my favorite aspect of the book and the main reason I kept pushing through it. I loved the way al-Azzawi interwove the supernatural with the traditional with the modern aspects of everyday life. Also, the humor and irony used throughout were just spectacular and unending. For example, at one point in the book, the community comes to rely on the local thieves to protect the city from other thieves and the police. At another point, the mullah takes naps in a coffin he has put in his office and then this little gem, “This failure, which tried the insurgents’ resolve, certainly upset them because they had wished to teach the policemen sheltering inside the school a stern lesson, but it was not a big deal” (p. 125).
When I finished the book, I was left confused and disappointed but as time has passed, I’ve come to like it more and more. This is not a book to pick up lightly and some research should be done beforehand. It reads like a much longer book than it actually is (only 276 pages) and it is not easy to follow the entire time, but I really think it is a worthwhile chance to explore a culture so incredibly different from our own but that is now so closely linked with our fate.