sarah

Abou and the Angel Cohen: A Novel

Abou and the Angel Cohen: A Novel - Claude Campell I couldn't make it through, it's just not very good. This novel was inspired by the poem "Abou Ben Adhem" by James Henry Leigh Hunt. It picks up a few decades after the poem, when Abou is an old man living in a goatherder's tent behind his son-in-law's house in Gaza. He is again visited by an angel, this time a ragged but smug angel named Cohen. Much is made of how Abou is not comfortable with a Jewish angel, although Cohen tells him that angels don't have human religious affiliations. In their conversations, Cohen is very casual and uses English slang that either confuses or embarrasses Abou, and he discusses millennia of human culture with flip observations. He is so smug and pedantic it's nauseating. Here he is explaining why Abou didn't get visited by a Muslim angel this time:Cohen grinned a thin, humorless smile. "Let me be frank, Abou. We could afford mix and match for a while. I mean, we knew it made you humans more comfortable to think you had an angel of your religious preference, so we went along with that little charade, but face the facts, old bean, you humans create new religions every day. I mean, it's mind-boggling. We would need an angel for every splinter group. That's just far beyond our budget. So we went into rotation."Ha ha? Whenever Cohen talks, I hear the author complaining. People make up religions faster than angels can keep track, people grow so much food that it is too cheap to support farmers but in other areas they starve to death, people breed so fast they will extinguish themselves, people can't resist infidelity and rape because they were made to have sex, people developed agriculture and turned women and children into chattel. Oh people! In fact, the subtitle of this book could be "Humans: you can't live with them and you can't live without them!" I think Cohen's condescending tone -- keep in mind he is addressing Abou, a gentle old soul who was once told that his love for his fellow men placed him at the top of the list of people who love the Lord -- is supposed to be funny. I'm not sure. All I know is, I've had enough.I'm curious about why Campbell, an American who has not as far as I can tell spent much time in occupied Palestine, chose to write a novel set there. I don't get the impression that he is uniquely qualified to speak to the Arab-Israeli conflict in the Middle East, or to the Muslim experience in Palestine. Instead I suspect that he is indulging in Orientalism here. Abou is Muslim in that he dislikes Jews and refers to God as "the Almighty Allah", but I don't get the impression that Campbell had anything more than that to give him. I think Abou is really the author wanting to be the one who loves his fellow man more than anyone else, proud and humble at the same time. And Cohen is the author's jaded world-weary sarcastic self who sees humans as just slightly clever-enough beasts. The conversations are not profound or even amusing. This novel is tiresome. Not recommended.