The Last of the Angels
A Modern Iraqi Novel
From a legendary writer both beloved and banished by Iraq -- a fine work of Arabic literature in the vein of Naguib Mahfouz and Elias Khoury, and a magical and moving comic novel about the birth of modern Iraq.
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.
Reading Group Guide
1. How does the rumor of Hameed Nylon begin? What are the consequences of this rumor? What does this reveal about the prejudices and stereotypes?
2. Khidir Musa leaves the village after he had "received from the spirit world a message to set forth to search for his two brothers, who had been missing since World War I." (p. 67) What do you make of his sign? What is the significance to Burhan?
3. How do the villagers feel about the road being constructed by the British? What will this mean for their village?
4. The number three comes up a great deal in The Last of the Angels. There are three angels, the three brothers returning to the village, and the three men in the tower, just to name a few examples. What do you think is the significance, if any?
5. Khidir Musa meets an aging dervish in a cave, which we later learn is Death, who tells him: "Don't forget that the matter concerns the dead first and foremost, not the living. The dead too have a right to voice their opinion." (p. 101) Why is it fitting that Death is making this pronouncement? What is its importance to Khidir? How does this relate to the rest of the novel?
6. Khidir Musa leads an expedition to King Faisal in order to stop the building of the road through the cemetery, and Dada Hijiri composes a poem about their meeting:
The rose's bed:
Come let us seek the rose's bed.
I sought the rose's bed
But found thorns bedded the see more