Monday, February 12, 2007

Marina Benjamin, in her grandmother's footsteps

The current issue of the Jewish Chronicle (9 February) has a full page interview with Marina Benjamin, the author of Last days in Babylon, entitled 'No escape from Baghdad'. Marina embarked on a journey - literal and metaphorical - to find her Iraqi-Jewish roots after feeling estranged from them for most of her life. That estrangement, she argues, gave her the necessary perspective to write the book.

Marina, whose book centres on her grandmother's life story, tells Jenni Frazer that 'Iraqi-ness' permeated everything in her upbringing. It was something she was desperate to get away from. Iraqi-Jewish houses looked different from others and they all the looked the same as each other. The family's friends were almost wholly other Iraqi Jews.

"Iraqi-ness informed everything I did. And I'm sure that what's emerging now, at a very deep inner level, showing through like a late-release DNA."(..)

Frazer writes: "Benjamin is equally adamant that going to Baghdad was an essential component of writing the book, although she admits freely that she was terrified during her two-week stay in the city in 2004.

"Rather touchingly, she showed up in Baghdad, speaking halting Arabic, with a bunch of addresses of the last Jews in one hand and a cluster of packets of kosher meat in the other. One or the other seems to have paid off and she paints a compelling, if saddening, picture of the daily lives of the remaining Iraqi Jews."

Read article in full (subscription required)

Interview in Nextbook

Interview on BBC radio: Women's Hour

Jewish Quarterly review

Review in The Telegraph, India

Remembering Babylon: Marina Benjamin will be in conversation with Naim Kattan, author of Farewell Babylon, on Sunday 4 March at 2pm at Jewish Book Week (in association with Harif)

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