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Late for Tea at the Deer Palace: The Lost Dreams of My Iraqi Familyby Tamara Chalabi
Synopses & Reviews
For Tamara Chalabi, Iraq is more than a country of war and controversy; it is a place of poignant memory. For much of the twentieth century, the Chalabis were among the most influential families in Iraq. In the 1920s they were at the forefront of their country's awakening to modernity, and they played an integral part in the establishment of its monarchy. As courtiers, politicians, businessmen, rebels, merchants, and scholars, the Chalabis enjoyed vast privilege until the end of the 1950s, when they were forced to flee to the land of exile, myth, and imagination, where their beloved homeland took on the quality of a phantom country. In between came rebellions, foreign interventions, and the transformative development of oil wealth.
But in 2003, after a lifetime of exile, Tamara arrived in Baghdad just ten days after the city's fall, in the company of her father, Ahmad Chalabi, a leading opposition figure against the Saddam regime. Late for Tea at the Deer Palace chronicles a daughter's return to a homeland she'd known only through stories and her own imagination. As she investigates four generations of her family's history, Tamara offers a rich portrait of Middle Eastern family life and a provocative look at a lost Iraq. The story is populated by an array of unforgettable characters, among them Tamara's great-grandfather Abdul Hussein Chalabi, who as a member of the Ottoman parliament witnessed the end of the empire in Baghdad and the birth of the modern Iraqi state at the hands of the British; her grandfather Abdul Hadi Chalabi, who became one of the wealthiest men in Iraq and had strong ties with the British during World War II; and her grandmother Bibi, a grande dame who presided over Iraq's social and political life during Baghdad's 1920s and '30s heyday as the Paris of the Middle East.
At once intimate and magisterial, Late for Tea at the Deer Palace vividly captures the rich, overlooked history of a country that has been uprooted by war and a family that has persevered by never forgetting its dreams or its past.
"A wealthy clan weathers Iraq's turbulent history in this intimate retrospective. Chalabi, daughter of the controversial Iraqi political figure Ahmed Chalabi, recounts her family's journey from WWI through its exile after the 1958 nationalist coup. Her grandfather Hadi was one of Iraq's richest and most prominent men, and high politics swirl in the background as Ottoman and British imperialists, Arab nationalists, Sunnis, Shiites, Communists, and a transplanted monarchy jockey for power. But Chalabi tells the story mainly from the viewpoint of Hadi's wife Bibi, a feisty, progressive woman, complete with cigarettes, who chafes against the constraints of traditional Islamic femininity. Chalabi's novelistic treatment--full of arranged marriages, household melodrama, and big, steaming feasts--paints a rich panorama of Iraqi domestic life as the nation evolves toward a hopeful, modern future, until the coup (Chalabi's account is gripping) turns it onto a darker path. The author's political chronicle is sketchy--we don't really learn why Nasserite mobs wanted to kill the Chalabis in 1958--and her brief memoir of later years grinds some of her father's axes. But her family portrait is most telling as a glimpse of a contented, prosperous Iraqi normalcy that might have been. Photos. (Jan.)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright PWyxz LLC)
“Its an admirable endeavour to have Iraq addressed by someone who is in so many ways able to approach it from two worlds. . . . Tamara Chalabi has the stuff, in every sense, that is needful to undertake this.” —Christopher Hitchens
In the tradition of Jung Changs Wild Swans and Bhutto Benazirs Reconciliation comes Tamara Chalabis unique memoir of returning to her familys homeland, Iraq. In this epic story of one daughters journey through the annals of her familys tumultuous history, Chalabis powerful voice and piercing vision illuminate her country and its people as never before.
About the Author
Tamara Chalabi holds a PhD in history from Harvard University. She has written for The Wall Street Journal, The New Republic, Slate, and The Sunday Times, among other publications.
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