The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.
–Milan Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting
I walked up the stairs to the Poetry Room of the City Lights Bookstore one evening, eager to see Rabih Alameddine and listen to a reading from his most recent book, The Angel of History (Shop your local indie bookstore). While I did not know much about the new book, I read An Unnecessary Woman this year and thoroughly enjoyed it. It is every book lover’s delight, and you can read about my review of the book here.
Rabih read two passages from the book, and both times I held my breath at equal intervals — unfamiliar with the story but intimately acquainted with the themes of memory, of remembering all too well.
It couldn’t have been a better time to be reminded of not forgetting. With the onslaught of cultural and political amnesia these days, how can the importance of history be reinstated in a way that fosters consciousness?
The imminent return of a ruling family that nearly destroyed my home country, the Philippines, is terrifying, while the rise of a fascist government in the U.S., which has unleashed a wave of white supremacy all over the country (even in the most self-proclaimed progressive bastions) is alarming.
Given the current climate, Rabih was right. And he was bringing up what used to be a significant issue among the population — the AIDS epidemic.
I watched as Rabih expressed his hurt, anger, grief and disbelief, at how easy it is to forget. That just few decades ago, gay men were dying in incredulous numbers as the AIDS epidemic run rampant in places like San Francisco and New York City. I admit that I’m a bad gay ally — that as a queer woman, I really don’t know much about what happened.
The Angel of History explores the life of Jacob, a gay Arab man living in San Francisco whose friends and partner succumbed to the AIDS epidemic. He’s grieving, in utter desolation because of the loss of lives, and he lives out his life as if writing an endless letter to his deceased partner he calls “Doc.”