But the controversial Iraqi politician is not the protagonist of this tale. This is Tamara Chalabi’s story; one of an inheritance of exile and a struggle to connect with a distant, troubled homeland.
"He has his own tale to tell, although I acknowledge that my father has played a pivotal role in shaping my relationship with his country, Iraq," Chalabi writes. "As with everything in the Middle East, nothing makes sense until you understand the past, and the past is never straightforward."
Chalabi, who earned her doctorate in history from Harvard, brings life to the history of a country whose story has been dominated by headlines of war and death.
She tells of Abdul Hussein, the family patriarch and a prominent member of the Shia Muslim community; his son, Abdul Hadi, a businessman turned politician; and a host of other relatives who each reflect a piece of Iraqi society and culture in its founding, golden age and later turmoil.
The most compelling tale is that of Bibi Bassam, the author’s grandmother. At 16, she becomes the wife of Abdul Hadi through an arranged marriage. Strong willed and good humored, she becomes an integral part of the Chalabi household and eventually the mother of nine children, the last of which is Ahmad.
Traditional yet unreserved, Bibi holds weekly gatherings for women at the beautiful Deer Palace and, in her own way, pushes for women’s rights and liberation. When the family is forced into exile, Bibi, through her stories and songs, becomes a key link to the past for future generations.
Chalabi also provides the reader with fascinating anecdotes of Iraqi history, from the country’s haphazard beginning and early leaders like King Faisal and archaeologist Gertrude Bell to the efforts of Iraqi exiles to remove Saddam Hussein. In 2003, Chalabi accompanied the Free Iraqi Forces, a volunteer battalion, the only female to do so apart from a newspaper correspondent embedded with the group.
She delivers a strong critique of the US invasion of Iraq and the aftermath.
In the initial days, Chalabi notes, the Americans seemed deaf to the concerns of the Iraqi opposition and were "clearly working to a prearranged plan, whether it corresponded to the reality on the ground or not."
"While many Iraqis rejoiced at the overt recognition of Saddam’s Iraq as part of the ‘axis of evil,’ it also seemed as if the debate ignored them, and was speaking to another audience: it was an embodiment of American angst," she writes.
"Late for Tea at the Deer Palace" deftly combines elements of history and memoir, but shines most when the author lets the characters’ stories tell the history of Iraq.
Chalabi’s account of her own quest to find Iraq is equally moving.
"To have an inheritance of exile is a never-ending journey between myth and reality," she concludes. "Part of my coming to terms with Iraq entails accepting a reality that was built on an old dream; the dream of another home."