By Khalid Kishtainy
Quartet Books, £15
Kishtainy’s novel is the first I have seen by an Iraqi Arab about the fate of the Iraqi Jews. It stands with the novels of such great Iraqi Jewish writers as Sami Michael and Eli Amir. Although at times weighed down by exposition, By the Rivers of Babylon offers a different and at times beautifully drawn perspective. It depicts the rise of antisemitism in Iraq and the agony of the Jews who go into exile. “Losing your country is worse than losing your beloved woman,” cries Sassoon, the Jewish doctor, as he stands on the coast of Iran, looking back towards Iraq.
The success of the Jewish people is that they always return, and Iraq will have a Jewish community again. But the wonderful Jewish life of Old Baghdad has gone forever. Together, these three books provide essential reading about a world we have lost.