Thursday, January 26, 2006

From Baghdad to Brooklyn

To have an identity strung together with hyphens is to live in several worlds at once. From Baghdad to Brooklyn, Jack Marshall's beautifully crafted memoir, evokes an entire galaxy. Judy Bolton-Fasman reviews the book in The Forward.

"Marshall was born in Brooklyn in 1936. His mother, Grace, was from Aleppo, Syria, and his father, Albert, was an immigrant from Baghdad by way of Manchester, England. Theirs was an arranged marriage marked by a lifetime of tension and incompatibility. Albert was 45 when he rescued the much younger Grace from spinsterhood. His clothing business failed during the depression in England. In America, he toiled in businesses owned by the nepotistic Syrian Jewish community until he had saved enough money to buy a dry goods store and own his own home.

"By virtue of being the oldest of the three Marshall children, Jack was his mother's translator of everything American. Grace never learned English, staying insistently Arab Jewish in mid-century Brooklyn. His mother's retreat into Arabic made Marshall exquisitely sensitive to language and its nuances. He recalls listening, as a child, "to the flow of throat, slurring, coughing tones and consonants of Arabic hawked up viscerally from far back in the throat, coughed up from the lungs and viscera. Praise often sounded as vehement as curses. Often, it was difficult to tell the difference between the fervor of a rebuke and the ardor of a compliment, unlike spoken English, whose clipped words are formed more politely, civilly, with the tip of the tongue playing close behind the lips."

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