For Tamara Chalabi, Iraq is more than a country of war and controversy; it is a place of poignant memory. For much of the twentieth century, the Chalabis were among the most influential families in Iraq. In the 1920s they were at the forefront of their country’s awakening to modernity, and they played an integral part in the establishment of its monarchy. As courtiers, politicians, businessmen, rebels, merchants, and scholars, the Chalabis enjoyed vast privilege until the end of the 1950s, when they were forced to flee to the land of exile, myth, and imagination, where their beloved homeland took on the quality of a phantom country. In between came rebellions, foreign interventions, and the transformative development of oil wealth.
But in 2003, after a lifetime of exile, Tamara arrived in Baghdad just ten days after the city’s fall, in the company of her father, Ahmad Chalabi, a leading opposition figure against the Saddam regime. Late for Tea at the Deer Palace chronicles a daughter’s return to a homeland she’d known only through stories and her own imagination. As she investigates four generations of her family’s history, Tamara offers a rich portrait of Middle Eastern family life and a provocative look at a lost Iraq. The story is populated by an array of unforgettable characters, among them Tamara’s great-grandfather Abdul Hussein Chalabi, who as a member of the Ottoman parliament witnessed the end of the empire in Baghdad and the birth of the modern Iraqi state at the hands of the British; her grandfather Abdul Hadi Chalabi, who became one of the wealthiest men in Iraq and had strong ties with the British during World War II; and her grandmother Bibi, a grande dame who presided over Iraq’s social and political life during Baghdad’s 1920s and ’30s heyday as the Paris of the Middle East.