Reviews of Eli Amir’s novel “Farewell Baghdad”

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Eli Amir is an extraordinary author who effectively captured, photographed, analyzed and immortalized an experience that shifted from the world of reality to the world of legends. “Farewell Baghdad” is a novel that breathes the scents and fragrances, hears the sounds of love and grief, and absorbs the wonderful flavors, be it the Iraqi cholent or the Euphrates and Tigris rivers. He records the cooing of the pigeons and describes their behavioral code. He conveys to us these senses in real time, in a sequence that is easy to decipher, and embeds in us undisputed trust: from the wings of pigeons to the hips of dancers, we know without a doubt that we were provided a wonderful and precise portrayal.

The author is also sincere: He visits Rachelle’s husband who is locked up in prison, a feat that requires courage and dedication, but he does not conceal the fact that he is taken by Rachelle and her loneliness baffles his mind.
He took command of all the elements, compiled them to describe an entire era, and used them to provide our senses the colors, passions, dilemmas, fears and happiness entwined with fears, so that we can breathe the book, not only read it.
And this is the great source of its charm. It is a journey to a faraway country, to a time of wonders and we are enthralled. Not too long ago I took my 9 year old grandson to a party hosted by Nissim Garame (an Israeli singer), a party with a Yemenite flavor. When we left, my grandson said: “Grandpa, it’s too bad we are merely Ashkenaz”. When I finished reading the book, I had that same feeling…
In Baghdad, like in Warsaw or Moscow, we spent most of our lives on an underground journey. The Jews lived separately, one next to the other, one inside the other, and all were detached from the non Jewish world. Our parents went to synagogue – a place where there are no gentiles. Even in the synagogue the women sat upstairs while the men sat downstairs, and heaven forbid any relationship should develop between them.
Hakham Bashi, the chief Rabbi, believes in Nuri El Said’s kindness, more than he believes in the necessity of Zionism. He is the great Pasha, undisputed, all powerful, who works his magic on all who see him. He is the greatest seducer of all his friends. Incidentally, the description of the dinner at the house of Jewish master Big Amari, in honor of heir to the throne Abd El Ilea and Prime Minister Nuri El Said Pasha, is one of the most wonderful descriptions of a dinner I have ever read in a book. And it seems that among all the flavors and fragrances and backdrops there is also reciprocity: The Jew relies on the Pasha and the Pasha relies on the Jew, but it doesn’t end there: the Pasha suggests the Jews immigrate to Israel but the Rabbi believes the Jews’ future is actually more secure in Iraq.
A period of transition drives the mind crazy. We experience in the pages of the book the wavering hearts of the Jews who are torn between the comfortable allure of staying put and carrying on theirs lives and the “Farhoud”, the unpredictable pogrom, that supports the messianic appeal of the new Land of Israel, where the eternally ancient and the captivating modernization coexist: historical imagination and lush rice; phylacteries on the forehead and a gun on the waist; the eternal Bible and the blaring news headlines.
The Jewish history is not made up of stones but of longing. We are the People of the Book, not the people of the pyramids. The book describes the avidity of the Jews, after the “Farhoud”, to set out on the journey, and instead of release pigeons – to pack their bags.

A wonderful book about a very special time.

Shimon Peres –the ninth President of Israel, the former prime-minister of Israel.

“Farewell Baghdad is an indispensable and touching book, sensual and fascinating, well written, full of humor and irony even in its saddest moments, full of unforgettable characters.”

 Fabiana Chefetz- “Tel Aviv”                  Nov. 6. 1992

Fascinating, sensual and heart-touching, warmly recommended.

There are not many books, which leave you with a desire to read them again from the first page. One of them is “Farewell Baghdad”, by Eli Amir. Without unnecessary superlatives and clichés, this is one book you cannot lay down.
In a colorful and rich language, it describes the odyssey of one of the oldest and greatest Jewish communities, starting from the severe crisis of the “farhoud” – the pogrom by Baghdad residents against the Jews in 1941; through the birth of the state of Israel and its immediate influence on the delicate balance of coexistence between Jews and Moslems.
The secret of this powerful book, In addition to the events themselves, lies in the involvement of all the reader’s senses, who can walk through the streets of Baghdad, water his mouth with descriptions of spicy foods and smell the oriental aromas… a fascinating, sensual and touching book, but also an important historic document, which one hopes will soon be introduced in the educational system.

Iris Rikin – “Globus”         Nov. 11 1992

A beautiful book made of layers of happiness and sadness.

I read the book with excitement and emotional identification, and couldn’t put it down. From time to time tears filled my eyes, and stories I’d heard became real, surrounded by a glow of exotic beauty. Amir succeeds in weaving a colorful enchanting story, and re-creates Jewish and Moslem Baghdad as a magic city of contrast, an entity in itself, attractive and repulsive, enchanting and threatening. Its sensuality and impulsivity break out and carry the reader in a sort of One Thousand and One Nights tales of our time.
Amir’s Baghdad is a city in search of redemption, as if coming out of legends and nightmares. In the background- Iraq undergoing a transformation, before a critical turning point.
This is also the story of the coming of age of Kabi, the 16 years old story teller, through whose curious and sensitive eyes we watch the story evolve. The tragic and humorous blend, with aromas and colors, different ethnic groups, busy market places, whorehouses, political plots, conservatives and secular people, Jews and communists, as the foods provide the sensual ambiance. And this is only the tip of the book.

Hedda Boshes-         “Ha’aretz”                   Nov. 17 1992

“Farewell Baghdad” is an excellent novel, well styled, fascinating and impressive. Its real hero, who provides the novel its power and depth, is not Kabi, but his city, Baghdad. Kabi’s uncle and his English mistress, who sees the city through her Western, hungry and excited eyes, give a new look at the city, its beauty and wealth, exposing its human and cultural complexity.

Eli Hirsch-         “Ha’ir” (Tel Aviv)                   Nov. 11 1992

With his impressive prose writer’s talent, Amir describes the sensual magic, oriental music, belly-dancing, arrack and whisky spilled like water. He also describes the pleasures of sailing through the river in a Sheik’s yacht. Descriptions blend with internal tensions and the fear of Jews participating in the feasts, as protectorees of the Moslems.

“Hatzofe” -                  Nov. 11 1992

Through Kabi’s and also through Miss Sylvia’s eyes, we see the sensual and magic world… Even an outsider can feel the wind blowing among those sleeping on the roof in hot nights, smell the aroma of fresh pita-bread with “Kemar”, hear the sound of dives’ wings, taste the sweet tea and explore the sour exotic flavor of mango juice, given to Kabi by his rich cousin.
The last picture serves as an epilogue of everyday Jewish stories. It is no coincidence that Kabi’s mother, who was apposed to emigration to Israel, shows amazing adjustment to her new world…,who never dreamt of a new life, could accept cope with that she feared.
The historic reasons for the Zionist dream are told by Haskell, in his letter from jail… the foundation of the movement, the Zionist underground, after the “farhoud”…almost every hero debates the conflict between the love of the motherland and the sense of belonging and a life of equality and self-realization.

Batya Gur – “Ha’aretz”                  Nov. 11 1992

…The reader is exposed to a colorful world, full of social and ideological conflicts… in cultural encounter.
His vivid memory and ability to recall small details, his emotional identification with the hero and sympathy to all his lost community members, help Amir to reach wonderful results.
The author’s ability to strike a balance between the various elements, the private dreams of the teenage hero, and the public figures of the community, enables him to run smoothly a dramatic and tale, rich in historic connections. The loss of identity and the ideological confusion of the community are described at eye-level, looking at their souls…
Trough the memories of Baghdad rises the image of the author as a young writer, human and alive…side by side with the charity and mutual help, the Jews use the services of Moslems prostitutes, displace relatives from their inheritance, and every man wants Rachelle, the uncle’s wife.

Eli Shay -                  “Ma’ariv”                  Jan. 29 1993

The pain of the double motherland accompanies Israeli literature from the beginning. In most cases, it is like Leah Goldberg’s. In “Farewell Baghdad” Eli Amir awakens childhood memories of those whose feet muddled in the Tigris river, and in summer nights played on roofs in Baghdad; in the morning they sang the Iraqi national anthem and on Friday nights “Shabbat” songs to the tune of Abed El Wahab.
Amir is the perfect story-teller, can build dramatic situations… surprise and be funny. His Iraq is far from being a nostalgic sweet memory… The book depicts the complexity of Jewish existence as protectorees of the Moslem majority…it tells about Kabi’s fears in a street where his clothes and language give away his identity…but steel finds it difficult to part with his childhood…
At the end of the novel, Iraqi Jews leave for Israel, leaving behind those who helped them emigrate and paid with their lives.
Amir’s book is tolerant of these people in khaki clothes, who tear the family apart…

Tamat Hass-Segman                  “Yediot Aharonot”                  Jan. 22 1993

This novel is one of the most important achievements of Hebrew literature in recent years. A unique and significant book, not only from the artistic aspect, but also the public and educational.

Ben Ami Feingold                           “Moznayim”                  Feb-Mar 1993

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'The Scribe' is the Journal of Babylonian Jewry. It has been published by the Exilarch's Foundation since 1971. The Magazine covers many areas of interest including subjects related to Jews of Iraqi origin. Its readership of about 5,000 is based in Israel, the United Kingdom, the United States of America and many countries of the Diaspora.It was founded and continues to be edited by Mr. Naim Dangoor, the grandson of Hakham Ezra Reuben Dangoor who was the Chief Rabbi of Baghdad, Iraq about 70 years ago.