Wednesday, January 24, 2007

London author recaptures lost Iraqi-Jewish history

Photo Neil Bennett

Jessie Graham in Nextbook interviews Marina Benjamin. The London-born author, who is about to publish the UK edition of her new book, Last days in Babylon, travelled to Baghdad to find the city that suffused her family's imagination. (With thanks: Albert)

Marina Benjamin went to Baghdad for the first time in March 2004. She made her way to the Old City, where the Jews once lived, and in the twisted streets, among the souks and coffee houses, searched for her family's past. She wanted to know why her relatives—Iraqi Jews in exile for half a century—still lived in the Baghdad of their memories.

As a teenager in London, Benjamin ignored her Iraqi Jewish roots. She could not understand her family's hunger for a homeland that rejected them. She didn't learn Arabic. She was more interested in being British than she was in learning about her family's past. When she turned 16, her parents began to search for a boy for her to marry—someone from a good Baghdadi family. Benjamin's instinct was to run away.

Following the death of her grandmother, Regina, Benjamin began to feel the pull of the heritage she had previously rejected. In Last Days in Babylon, she traces the footsteps of her grandmother, born in Baghdad in 1905. It was not an easy task. "I had to face up to the fact that this Jewish history had been written over, rubbed out, vanquished," she writes. "It remained alive in living memory, of course, but even now that was fading."

Read article in full

Marina Benjamin will be giving a talk in London on Saturday 3rd February and signing copies of her new book. For details see Harif.

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