Late for Tea at the Deer Palace by Tamara Chalabi
About this Novel:
Just ten days after Baghdad’s fall in 2003, Tamara Chalabi arrived in the city after a lifetime in exile—finally entering the homeland she’d known only through stories and her own imagination.
Investigating four generations of her family’s history at the forefront of Iraqi society, Chalabi offers a rich portrait of Middle Eastern life and a provocative look at a lost Iraq. Unforgettable characters provide glimpses of the end of the Ottoman Empire, the birth of the Iraqi state, the flowering of “the Paris of the Middle East,” and Iraq’s descent into chaos. At once intimate and magisterial, Chalabi’s memoir of return and reclamation vividly captures the rich history of a country shattered by war and a family that has never forgotten its past.
If you've watched the news, read the paper or been online at all over the past ten years, you probably hold a particular image of Iraq in your mind. It probably isn't a pretty one either. A large number of people view Iraq as a country of war, populated by violent religious extremists. It is a land largely shrouded in mystery to many of us, with our only knowledge coming from what we've read and seen in the media.
So imagine my surprise and delight at the view offered by Tamara Chalabi, daughter of Ahmad Chalabi, a leading opposition figure to Saddam Hussein's regime. She begins her tale of history and family in the early 1900's, with her great-grandfather, the influential Abdul Hussein and the British occupation of Mesopotamia during World War I; from which Modern day Iraq was born. In the style of Iraq's oral traditions, the memoir encompasses the points of view and life events of several of Chalabi's relatives including her father, aunts, grandfather and her grandmother, Bibi. (Who I loved from her initial appearance in the family's story.) While she tells of the events occurring around the family in Iraq, the heart and soul of the novel lies within the lives, loves and losses of the family.
This story is neither a dry historical look at the country's past nor a boring slideshow of a family's past. To me, this memoir is a celebration of a family and the country they loved, were forced from and their eventual homecoming many years later. A masterful weaving of Chalabi's personal and political feelings, it offers insights into the hows and whys of Iraq's past as well as its current situation. It is an eye opening and insightful look at a misunderstood country and its people, which I would recommend wholeheartedly to those interested in history, the middle east or just a good read.