In the summer we moved our beds to the roof and a white iron enclosure provided privacy from glances of passers-by. Small holes at the top let us look out on the street without being seen. Often at sunset, before I got into bed, I would spy through these openings on the muffled throbbing of the outside world. Once a week the Bedouins would come with their camels. They would sit them down just across from our house and feed the animals. I would beg my mother to lift me above the enclosure. In these circumstances, it tasted of the forbidden.
In the Muslim dialect, I would address the stranger. The tall Bedouin would spin around his Akal and turn his head. In the world of childhood, I was neither Jew nor Muslim, and without running any risk I could speak directly to a Bedouin. The Bedouin and his camel bring the unfamiliar space of the desert into the familiar space of the neighborhood, in plain view of the home. At the same time, however, we understand that this is a very fleeting adventure across communal and class lines, and one undertaken entirely as an act of speech; the child does not actually leave the enclosure on the roof, but rather speaks across those boundaries from within the safety of his own home.
It is, moreover, enacted from a vantage point that is literally superior in the spatial sense to the place of the Bedouin, and yet is liminally outside and inside, a space from which one can see without being seen. The Bedouin, for his part, does not look up toward the voice addressing him, but remains spatially oriented toward his camel. Thus the boundaries of space and identity are reinforced even as they are momentarily transgressed.
Time and again throughout this body of literature, we find language and dialect acting as the definitive barometers of belonging and unbelonging. This tightly focused and exquisitely narrated piece portrays a Baghdadi Jewish family on the eve of its departure for Israel, but—in an unusual twist—as witnessed through Muslim eyes.
In weaving the narrative around a Muslim woman who has created her home in Jewish space, Ballas reverses the dominant paradigm of Jews living as minorit- ties in a larger Muslim space—a paradigm that, implicitly or explicitly, informs virtually all works by and about Jews in Muslim lands. In the following passage, for instance, Zakiyya meditates on the changing rhythms and sights of Baghdad: She had gone with Saul to buy [the suitcases] in al-Shorja market.
Mounds upon mounds of suitcases. The Jews are going, the Jews are going. It was a grand time for the tinsmiths and suitcase dealers. Liquidation sale.
The seasons of sales to the Jews were over. Earthenware platters for Passover, palm fronds and pomegranates for Sukkot, noisemakers and masks for Purim. There would be no more Jews and their holidays would no longer be felt in the market. Instead of the various holiday items, whose presence marks the central Baghdadi suq as Jewish space, Jews are now buying vast quantities of suitcases, and thus the character of the market is changing even before they have left.
As a hybrid character, Zakiyya occupies the most liminal of spaces: she is a Muslim living in a Jewish household, in a mixed Muslim—Jewish neighborhood, in a predominantly Muslim country. Yes, more Jewish than Muslim and a Muslim among Jews. This is how it had been and how it had ended. Curiously, she is not the only figure in the family who is staying behind, nor is she the only liminal insider-outsider in the story. Baghdad without Jews? How would Baghdad look without Jews, they say to me. The story succeeds in conveying these complex intercommunal relations with a subtlety that resists stereotype, apology, or idealization.
Will they take dirty laundry with them?
No more would she be asked to answer or advise. It had all slipped away from her, it all had nothing to do with her. A strange feeling of resignation and indifference came over her, and she sank onto her bench and stretched out her legs. To rest, to rest, to think about nothing—she said over and over to herself. So she sat in the shadowy kitchen, emptied of thoughts, stupefied as if in a faint.
Immediately after, she saw his shadow in the doorway. He handed her a book, bound in green and adorned with gold letters. This final, parting gesture effects the separation; the blurring of his features represents her tears, but on another level can also convey the camera panning out, as Ephraim literally dissolves before her eyes into an irretrievable past. Leav etaki ng Among the recurring experiences of Baghdad represented in Jewish narratives there is, ultimately, the final one: that of leaving Baghdad behind.
How then—in practical terms—does one recreate a lost world, a lost life? Naqqash was, until recently, the last Iraqi Jew writing in Arabic; with his death in , the epoch of Jewish participation in Arabic literature has drawn to a close.
Only thirteen years old when he left Iraq for Israel, Naqqash acquired native knowledge of Hebrew yet chose to embark on a literary career in Arabic. Likewise, he vehemently insisted on his Iraqi identity, calling himself an Iraqi Jew in exile. To my knowledge, he is the only writer ever to employ the Baghdadi Jewish dialect at length in prose fiction. This enterp- prise results in a kind of double-text,85 an autotranslation that mediates between the world of the narrative and that of the reader.
By refusing to translate his narrative either linguistically or culturally—and by refusing even to translate the language of Baghdadi Jews into literary Arabic—he created a world as strictly mimetic as any textual world can be. But the price he paid for this degree of verisim- militude was his readership, which remains miniscule. But as political tensions grow, these familiar sites are disturbingly defamiliarized by street demonstrations mobilizing the Iraqi public to the defense of Palestine.
While the narrator finds their presence reass- suring, his feelings about his environment nonetheless grow increasingly contrad- dictory.
Once More, With Feeling
The city they knew is disintegrating before their very eyes and still, until nearly the last possible moment, they cling to it as the only home they know. Inevitably, most of the narratives of Jewish Baghdad portray the collapse of Jewish life in the city, a disintegration that intensifies once the emigration of — is underway. As the Jewish schools lose students, those remaining find it diffic- cult to take their lessons seriously. Extended families break apart, with some leaving before others; those who stay, as they find themselves in the minority, eventually succumb to the pressure to join their relatives.
The features of Baghdad, the city that is half Jewish, have begun to change. The Jews are disappearing. Vanishing, by and by. And in their place come waves of gypsies and peasants to fill the void. We are without identities. But our severed stems have not ceased to cling to their roots lying low in the depths of the earth. Every day my sister and I go out, headed for the river. On our way we pass a police station. And the Tigris is overflowing. We approach the edge of the stone retaining wall. Another hairsbreadth and the water will burst into the streets.
Each day my sister and I pass by the river with quickly beating hearts. We bend over, and our little fingers measure the distance between the imminent danger of the water and the onslaught of the flood. Day after day, then the water begins to recede. By one hair, two hairs, then by three. Baghdad is being emptied of her Jews. The synagogues are emptied of their worshippers; the schools, of their pupils, and the hospital of its visitors and patients. The city is sad and gloomy in her stillness, and her silence speaks the most eloquent of languages. That he conflates the Jewish sites in Baghdad with the city as a whole indicates the extent to which his experience of the city is mediated by his sense of self.
The blurring of the distinction between his experience of the city and the city itself, or between his internal state and his external surroundings, leads one to question whether the descriptions of the overf- flowing river and the silent city are metaphors of the city as self or the self as city. The bus carries us over the bridge as I bid farewell to Baghdad, as one departing for an unknown fate.
A teary- eyed yearning, as the waters of the Tigris, trickles through my body.
I look out into the darkness adorned with specks of light, and my thoughts are ripped apart. Quietly, within myself, I melt and with me melts the poetry of parting. It is the crossing of the bridge, not to be reversed, that symbolizes the finality of his exit from the city.
Verdi’s “Otello”: Shakespeare Sings in Hong Kong
As the bus continues on its way, disconnected fragments of his young life in Baghdad—people and places, experiences—play before his eyes. For a few, the parting from Baghdad takes place a bit earlier, in the late s; or, in the case of Yahia, much later—in the early s, with an illegal and perilous trip north through Kurdistan to cross the mountainous border into Iran. All that remained of it for me. And I hoped I would be able to take away forever, within myself, its last reflection. It had to be so. In that way my childhood would be preserved.
I would enter the new world without cutting off a privileged part of it, without dispersing my dreams and memories. The bus was already moving along the dirt road.
The sand was enclosing us, extending a curtain, cutting us off from the city which moved farther away in a fog that was ominous and dark. The road was strewn with stones which skipped into the air as the tires squealed over them.
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Through the tears that poured down my cheeks, I could glimpse the howling dogs that were pursuing us. Now I did not have to throw stones to get rid of them, to protect myself from them. This closing passage ends on an enigmatic note: why does the speaker not need to protect himself from the dogs, who, in that moment, are still quite real? The howling dogs chasing after him are suggestive of the collective menaces and difficulties hounding Jewish Iraqis in general, and the narrator in particular.
This sense of the irretrievability of the past is especially salient in narratives by those authors who find themselves in Israel, where not only is Iraq an enemy nation, but Arab ic language, culture, and identity are all rejected by the reigning social and political norms. He pulls his army-issue cot out of the tent, hoping to fall asleep under the stars, but finds little repose: The skies are deeper and bluer than over there, and I search them for the North Star, for the Big Dipper.
What will Edouard do tomorrow morning? Not even for the briefest visit. The descriptions of violence are necessarily evocative, and the entire piece has a cinematic quality to it - Alexander has a real knack for bringing scenes to life in a way that even some of the finest war films don't quite manage. Particularly skilful is the gradual and inexorable sliding of the Marines into total institutionalisation, and their self-alienation from civilised life as a consequence. Reservations are minor - there are one or two dubious same-scene POV shifts, and the book is too short to handle the number of characters it introduces.
While there are valiant attempts to make each one memorable witness the injured Wilson , a number of them fall by the wayside and not just from shrapnel injuries. Overall, a well-crafted, quietly-impactive and moving tragi-comic work, which showcases some highly impressive talent.
Book Release – The Life of Ling Ling: A Novella About Iraq • Empty Mirror
Michael Umbarger rated it liked it Apr 16, Benjamin Carr rated it it was amazing Sep 03, Cody Yard rated it it was amazing Dec 28, Jack Babalon rated it it was amazing Aug 04, Shane Suzuki rated it it was amazing Jul 08, Lisa Day rated it really liked it Nov 29, Keri Anne Langford rated it really liked it Sep 18, Margarita rated it really liked it Jan 04, Graham Giles marked it as to-read Sep 17, Valarie Wofford added it Nov 04, Elizabeth Morris marked it as to-read Jun 03, Katie marked it as to-read Jun 26, Jennifer marked it as to-read Jul 13, Coby marked it as to-read Sep 13, Agnese marked it as to-read Jan 22, Deb Acquisto marked it as to-read Mar 15, Beverlee Couillard marked it as to-read Apr 19, Geoff Leask marked it as to-read May 08, Kathy marked it as to-read Aug 03, Llandaff added it Mar 12, Thinking Hero, who stole his heart, has been killed or captured by the assassin Adelia, Winslow Houndstooth is a shell of his former self: paranoid, aggressive, bitter and boozed up, and mad with worry for his lost Hero.
Meanwhile, Hero has been captured by Adelia, and is very much alive. But when Ysabel is taken in an attempt to blackmail Adelia into one last job, Hero stays by her side, for better or worse.
In a future China where the one-child policy has led to a population with 40 million more men than women, middle aged Wei-guo struggles through a life in which he is considered unnecessary. But the rulers of the nation know they are sitting on a powderkeg, and have become more intrusive and authoritarian than ever. A contemporary of H.