“Everybody asks me about my father. He has been labeled a maverick, a charlatan, a genius. He has been named as the source of supposedly faulty intelligence that led America into the war in Iraq. He has been called a triple agent for the US, Iran and Israel. But this is my story”(emphasis added).
Chalabi leads the reader on a transnational journey traversing the Middle East and the American East coast, spanning almost a century. Arriving “late for tea” at her father’s childhood house—the “Deer Palace”—in Baghdad, Chalabi is stunned to find the life-size, stone deer statue her grandfather Hadi had cherished, beheaded. The amputated head parallels the time—April, 2003, a month after the initial invasion into Iraq, and a mere ten days after the fall of Baghdad to the U.S.-led coalition.
Anger is openly attributed as Chalabi’s primary “trigger” to craft the work. Within a stereotypically-Western value framework, the author aims to illustrate and convince the reader of the “modern-ness” of her homeland. Chalabi writes to redress what she terms “the expropriation of [the Iraqi] people’s silent voices” by the American administration and the international press – which had “reduced Iraq to a desert of tanks, screaming women and barefoot children.”
As the Chalabi clan occupied an idiosyncratic space in Iraqi cultural-political life, described by the author as a simultaneity of insider/outsider status for “Shi’as who were deeply involved in politics,” it is clear that the historical necessity was prime for Tamara Chalabi’s memoir to emerge and release itself—a fitting decade after the fall of the Twin Towers and the ensuing Western “call to arms.”
Late for Tea at the Deer Palace: The Lost Dreams of My Iraqi Family
By Tamara Chalabi
448 pages, $19.00