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LAST DAYS IN BABYLON, THE STORY OF THE JEWS OF BAGHDAD

(Bloomsbury | The Free Press)

Longlisted for the Wingate Prize

In my early forties I decided it was high time I made a pilgrimage back to source. I visited Baghdad, the city my family had lived in for many hundreds of years, during the temporary window of opportunity forced open by American and British bombs. Through that window the market and its mother had gaily poured, trailing freelance mercenary fighters, telecommunications engineers, building contractors, loan sharks and truckloads of Eastern European cars. In the gung-ho parlance of the day, Iraq was ‘Open for Business’. I was transporting my own contraband in the form of dozens of packages of vacuum-sealed kosher meat: stuffed into the zippered pockets of my suitcase, they were intended as calling cards for when I tracked down the last Jews of Baghdad. At the time, just 22 were left, sorry representatives of an abandoned but once-flourishing community, of whom I met roughly half – and among whom, had events taken a slightly different turn, I might have counted myself. Now there are none.

I wrote about Iraq’s failed experiment in multi-culturalism for The Tablet ‘Far From Home’

This piece I wrote for The Forward won an award from the American Jewish Press Association for ‘Excellence in Journalism’ ‘Letter From Baghdad’

REVIEWS

‘An impassioned account of a multi-ethnic society . . . An incisive exposé of the 20th-century political vicissitudes which transformed the Middle East from a Pandora’s box kept somewhat shut by the Ottomans to the present amphitheatre of unrelenting religious, nationalistic and xenophobic conflicts . . . This is a history unknown even to most Jews. Benjamin narrates it fluently and passionately.’
—The Independent

‘This is a book written from the inside; Benjamin brings to her subject not just the impressive research, elegant prose, and incisive intelligence she brought to her previous two books, but also a passion that imbues every line with urgency and zest . . . Last Days in Babylon is essential reading for anyone interested in why Iraq went wrong.’
—The Jewish Quarterly

‘Last Days in Babylon is a rich and moving family memoir, but it’s much more too: a fascinating and impassioned look at an unknown world.’
— Evening Standard

‘Last Days in Babylon documents the astonishing swiftness with which the Iraqi Jewish community was shattered in the years after WWI, culminating in a mass exodus . . . Benjamin’s evocation of the routines and rituals of Iraqi Jewish life . . . makes her account of post-WWI turmoil all the more convulsing.’
—The Boston Globe

‘A fascinating glimpse of old-world Baghdad and the rich life the city’s Jewish community once enjoyed there . . . Highly evocative.’
—The Christian Science Monitor