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A novel/memoir that lacks compelling drama but is nonetheless gripping in the simple poignancy of its historical circumstances: the slow, then quick decimation of an entire culture--Iraqi Jews, the descendants of the same people who wrote the Talmud in Babylon 25 centuries ago, were wiped out or dispersed with the rise of Arab nationalism after World War II. The unnamed narrator cannot forget his boyhood witnessing of a pre-war Farhoud--pogrom--the recurrence of which all the Iraqi Jews know will come in time. He studies, education being a Jew's only ticket out; he works in civil service; he passionately devotes himself to both Arabic and French literature in the originals; he is initiated into the special, hypocritical savor of sexuality (brothels, veils) in the Mideast. Throughout he is always judging the distance between himself and the Muslims surrounding him. A Jewish lawyer tells him that Jews in Arab lands ""have managed to escape the destiny of the nomad. Even though we're in exile, we are not desert nomads, but the nomads of God and we take shelter under his watchful eye, in a community."" In the Iraqi community, however, the Jews are persecuted, especially with the advent of Israel as a state; all Jews are suddenly Zionists to the Arab Iraqis, their enemies. And Kattan's autobiographical narrator finally goes off to France to study, to survive. Very modest, then, sometimes almost bloodless--but sociologically complete, historically fascinating, painlessly instructive.

Pub Date: May 13th, 1980
Publisher: Taplinger