Late for Tea at the Deer Palace: The Lost Dreams of My Iraqi Family

Late for Tea at the Deer Palace: The Lost Dreams of My Iraqi Family

by Tamara Chalabi
     
 

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“It’s 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 Chang’s Wild Swans and Bhutto Benazir’s Reconciliation

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Overview

“It’s 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 Chang’s Wild Swans and Bhutto Benazir’s Reconciliation comes Tamara Chalabi’s unique memoir of returning to her family’s homeland, Iraq. In this epic story of one daughter’s journey through the annals of her family’s tumultuous history, Chalabi’s powerful voice and piercing vision illuminate her country and its people as never before.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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.)
Library Journal
The daughter of controversial Iraqi politician Ahmad Chalabi and a Ph.D. historian writes here about Iraq, a country she barely knew—the Chalabis went into exile in the 1950s—yet she felt drenched in its rich scenes through the tales of her exiled relatives. Her family has shaped her sense of a place called Iraq mainly through memories and folk stories. Chalabi elegantly narrates her family history, merging it with that of Iraq, from the Ottomans all the way to the birth of the modern state and her family's exile. We see the prestigious and rich Alchalibi family, who played political and administrative roles for decades in Iraq; we witness high lifestyles, gossip, women's voices, picnics with the royals—and the exile. Through this memoir, Chalabi tries to reinvent Iraq, claim it as her own, and defy the sense of estrangement that weighs heavily upon her. She visits Iraq for the first time, after the fall of Saddam, to find it a broken place wrapped with the dust of wars, so unlike the place lavishly introduced to her in the stories of her uprooted family. Verdict Through this vibrant literary memoir, readers learn about Iraq's history and a notable family's experience of the country, no matter how far away. Recommended for general readers.—Sadiq Alkoriji, South Regional Lib., Broward Cty., FL
Kirkus Reviews

A pleasantly informative memoir of an Iraqi family from the twilight of the Ottoman Empire before World War I to Baghdad today.

Historian Chalabi is the daughter of Ahmed Chalabi, America's candidate to replace Saddam Hussein in 2003. Her controversial father occupies a modest position in a history that opens in 1913 Baghdad with her great-grandfather, Abdul Hussein Chalabi (1879–1939), a powerful local figure. Caught in World War I, his area suffered badly; afterward the British assembled present-day Iraq from former Ottoman provinces. Abdul became a government minister while his son, Abdul Hadi (1898–1988), expanded family holdings before maturing into a leading nationalist after World War II. Hadi's increasingly Western-educated children were rising to prominence when, during the vicious 1958 military coup, mobs and soldiers murdered the royal family and leading officials. Their property confiscated, most Chalabis fled. As Iraq endured repeated brutal coups ending with the 1979 accession of Saddam Hussein, the family reassembled in Britain, Lebanon and the United States, joining the growing exile community. The author skims over events since 1990, but readers may blink to read that America's 2003 invasion surprised Iraqi opposition groups, and their offers of help were firmly declined. Besides delivering affectionate biographies of dozens of 20th-century antecedents, giving the women equal time, Chalabi provides an extensive, wide-ranging account of Iraqi history and culture through the eyes of a prominent family emphasizing the nation's often grisly politics and the persistent, catastrophic rift between Shia and Sunni Muslims.

Propelled by a rich narrative, this is one of many books that would have proven helpful to American leaders before they decided to invade Iraq.

Linda Robinson
Thankfully, Late for Tea at the Deer Palace is not Ahmad [Chalabi]'s book. It is a book about a bygone era—that of his parents, Bibi and Hadi, and his grandfather—an absorbing social history of Iraq that weaves the story of the influential and agile Chalabi family into Iraq's passage from part of the Ottoman Empire to monarchy to revolution…This is a work of exile literature, beautifully written, rich with human detail as only personal family histories can be, and minimally marred by an occasional excess of nostalgia.
—The New York Times
The Nation
“A gripping and well-told saga. . . . An eye-opening account of the family’s long history at the center of Iraq’s royal court.”
The New York Times Book Review
“An absorbing social history of Iraq. . . . A work of exile literature, beautifully written, rich with human detail as only personal family histories can be.”
The Associated Press
“A sweeping, enchanting memoir . . . Late for Tea at the Deer Palace deftly combines elements of history and memoir, but shines most when the author lets the characters’ stories tell the history of Iraq.”
The Los Angeles Times
“One small way to rebuild a country after war may be to hold a picture of its true beauty, which is what Chalabi does.”
The New Yorker
“Chalabi reconstructs her family’s past in novelistic scenes that demonstrate impressive scholarship.”
Ann Marlowe
“Fascinating. . . . Chalabi is a natural storyteller. . . . There are absorbing vignettes that describe everyday life in Iraqi high society as it has never before appeared in English. . . . An often beautiful and vivid but tragically belated book.”
Christopher Hitchens
“It’s 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.”

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780061240393
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
01/18/2011
Pages:
414
Product dimensions:
6.30(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.70(d)

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Christopher Hitchens
“It’s 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.”

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