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The Last of the Angels

The Last of the Angels

Fadhil al-Azzawi
Translated by William M. Hutchins
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    The Last of the Angels
    Book Description:

    Set in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk during the 1950s, The Last of the Angels tells the slyly humorous tale of three strikingly different people in one small neighborhood. During a labor strike against the British-run Iraq Petroleum Company, Hameed Nylon becomes a labor organizer and later a revolutionary, like his hero, Mao Tse-Tung. His brother-in-law, the sheep butcher Khidir Musa, travels to the Soviet Union to find his long-lost brothers, and returns home to great acclaim (and personal fortune) in an airship. Meanwhile, a young boy named Burhan Abdullah discovers an old chest in the attic of his family’s house that lets him talk to angels. By turns satiric, picaresque, and apocalyptic, The Last of the Angels paints a loving, panoramic, and elegiac portrait of Kirkuk in the final years of Iraq’s monarchy. But as the grim reality of modern Iraqi history catches up with the novel’s events, we come to learn the depth and complexity of Hameed Nylon, Khidir Musa, and Burhan Abdullah, and al-Azzawi’s comic novel becomes a moving tale of growing up in a dangerous world.

    eISBN: 978-1-61797-146-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-2)
  2. One
    (pp. 3-21)

    Hameed, who had yet to learn the nickname by which he would be known for the rest of his life, entered the house, which emitted a fresh country scent. With his foot, as usual, he shoved open the heavy door, which was made of walnut and decorated with large, broad-headed nails. Only at night was it closed by a bolt with protruding teeth. Verdigris had spread across this till its edges looked bright green. He climbed a few steps, making his way to the two small rooms over the entryway that led to the courtyard.

    It was the first time...

  3. Two
    (pp. 22-41)

    The Chuqor neighborhood actually had only two concerns: poverty and afreets. Poverty had driven many, especially migrant Arabs, to adopt theft as a profession, so that they broke into shops and houses by night. And the afreets, with which the neighborhood teemed since it was near the cemetery, similarly had led many residents, primarily the Turkmen, to become dervishes and sorcerers, devoting much of their time, which was always freely given, to encounters with the ghosts that had chosen the Chuqor neighborhood for their home. People thought it odd when Burhan Abdallah, who was a boy of seven at the...

  4. Three
    (pp. 42-62)

    The summer that thieves violated the Chuqor community, a deep friendship developed between Hameed Nylon, Abdallah Ali, and Gulbahar’s husband Faruq Shamil, who worked in the municipality of Kirkuk’s print shop located on Queen Aliya Street. In the course of time, a young Turkmen with a delicate, calm face—Najat Salim—joined their group. He was studying in the vocational training program sponsored by the Iraq Petroleum Company in New Kirkuk. Usually they met in the neighborhood or went to a nearby coffee shop to play backgammon or dominoes. Although their meetings seemed innocent to most people in the Chuqor...

  5. Four
    (pp. 63-82)

    After a stay of several years, livestock dealer Khidir Musa returned from al-Hawija, but without the fortune he had dreamt of. In fact, he would have ended up in prison had he not paid many bribes: to the county manager, the police lieutenant, and the deputy lieutenant, not to mention the policemen who hovered around him like flies.

    Actually, at first he had enjoyed a streak of good luck and in only a few months had become an influential figure who gambled on a regular basis with the county manager, the police lieutenant, and several tribal chiefs. First, he had...

  6. Five
    (pp. 83-109)

    No sooner had people heard about the municipality’s plan to cut a road through the nearby cemetery in al-Musalla than they contacted Khidir Musa, asking him to intercede to halt this gross sacrilege and to present their concerns to the governor—or even the king. For the municipality deliberately to challenge the feelings of the Muslims was really more than the citizens of Kirkuk could stand. A man could tolerate almost anything, but when the government set about digging up the graves of his fathers and grandfathers—many of whom were pious saints—that was sheer paganism.

    The delegation, which...

  7. Six
    (pp. 110-141)

    Having had more experience of life than most men, Khidir Musa understood the dangers of frequenting kings, for the honor a king bestows on those he embraces can vanish in a moment. Indeed, it may change into a disaster, often for no apparent reason. He knew from stories he had learned from his father that the ancient Arab kings would—from time to time—chop off their favorites’ heads, either for the sake of change or as the result of an intrigue hatched by persons with influence over the monarch’s mind or heart. His father had become acquainted with some...

  8. Seven
    (pp. 142-164)

    The mausoleum the government erected for Qara Qul had a big impact on the life of the Chuqor community and indeed on the whole city of Kirkuk because people began to flock there from every direction, eager to visit the mausoleum of the man who had ascended to heaven in a cloud of light, mounted on Buraq. At first, news about him spread to the villages surrounding Kirkuk. Then it was quickly transmitted to Alton Kopri, Chamchamal, Qara-Teppa, Sulaymaniya, Erbil, and Mosul. Next it reached Baghdad by means of traveling merchants and soldiers. From there, the news went out not...

  9. Eight
    (pp. 165-185)

    During the night when Mullah Zayn al-Abidin al-Qadiri saw—at the home of the widow of Qara Qul—the terrifying sight that caused him to take to his sickbed and left him unable to speak, Hameed Nylon kept moving from one place to another. To begin with he passed by the coffeehouse frequented by auto mechanics at the garage located on Railroad Station Street. The patrons there took him along with them after dark to a tavern, bringing with them bottles of arak purchased from liquor stores run by Christians. Hameed Nylon had not even thought about having something to...

  10. Nine
    (pp. 186-211)

    Mullah Zayn al-Abidin al-Qadiri was carried to his house in the very same coffin in which he had died so that his widow could weep for him and the Chuqor community could bid him farewell. When one of them was snatched away, their emotions remained disturbed and unsettled until they witnessed the death. Women of the Chuqor community normally mourned the deceased for three days, while consuming many pastries made with dates. The family of the deceased would distribute these even to strangers who chanced to pass by the door of the home, believing that the sweets would leave a...

  11. Ten
    (pp. 212-228)

    Hameed Nylon reached the mountain riding a mule on which he had thrown embroidered saddlebags filled with the mounds of dinars he had brought. He was wearing a military uniform that he had decorated with two red badges attached to the shoulders. He was brimming with the life that spread before him. This fresh arrival by Hameed Nylon, like a king returning to his subjects after an absence, caused the revolution to spread to neighboring villages even faster than Hameed Nylon could have imagined. He knew that nothing is as persuasive as cash. The moment he returned to his base...

  12. Eleven
    (pp. 229-246)

    More than two years passed after the disappearance of Hameed Nylon, who was banished to the Naqrat al-Salman Prison, which is a large fortress erected in the middle of the western desert, where it stands like a dreadful sign, planted in the sand and surrounded by camel’s thorn and Indian figs. At night all a person hears is the yipping of jackals circling the walls, attracted there by the scent of human beings. Everything had ended. The insurgents whom the revolution had attracted fled farther into the mountains or took refuge with their tribes, which were beyond government control. The...

  13. Twelve
    (pp. 247-275)

    Suddenly everything calmed down. An unusual yellow suffused the heavens. Was it the end or the beginning? Burhan Abdallah returned once more to his native city, which—after he had buried himself in diverse cities and continents, experiencing lethal depression and exuberant vitality—seemed no more than memories cast into time. He had become an old man who supported himself with a cane, and—after forty-six years spent traveling from one place to another, from airport to airport, from a city lost in fog to a city where the sun sparkled over its temples—he wore a gray hat to...

  14. Author’s Note
    (pp. 276-276)
  15. Translator’s Acknowledgments
    (pp. 277-277)
  16. Glossary
    (pp. 278-281)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 282-283)