counter create hit Last Days in Babylon: The Exile of Iraq's Jews, the Story of My Family - Download Free eBook
Hot Best Seller

Last Days in Babylon: The Exile of Iraq's Jews, the Story of My Family

Availability: Ready to download

Marina Benjamin grew up in London feeling estranged from her family's exotic Middle Eastern ways. She refused to speak the Arabic her mother and grandmother spoke at home. She rejected the peculiar food they ate in favor of hamburgers and beer. But when Benjamin had her own child a few years ago, she realized that she was losing her link to the past. In Last Days in Baby Marina Benjamin grew up in London feeling estranged from her family's exotic Middle Eastern ways. She refused to speak the Arabic her mother and grandmother spoke at home. She rejected the peculiar food they ate in favor of hamburgers and beer. But when Benjamin had her own child a few years ago, she realized that she was losing her link to the past. In Last Days in Babylon, Benjamin delves into the story of her family's life among the Jews of Iraq in the first half of the twentieth century. When Iraq gained independence in 1932, Jews were the largest and most prosperous ethnic group in Baghdad. They dominated trade and finance, hobnobbed with Iraqi dignitaries, and lived in grandiose villas on the banks of the Tigris. Just twenty years later the community had been utterly ravaged, its members effectively expelled from the country by a hostile Iraqi government. Benjamin's grandmother Regina Sehayek lived through it all. Born in 1905, when Baghdad was still under Ottoman control, her childhood was a virtual idyll. This privileged existence was barely touched when the British marched into Iraq. But with the rise of Arab nationalism and the first stirrings of anti-Zionism, Regina, then a young mother, began to have dark premonitions of what was to come. By the time Iraq was galvanized by war, revolution, and regicide, Regina was already gone, her hair-raising escape a tragic exodus from a land she loved -- and a permanent departure from the husband whose gentle guiding hand had made her the woman she was. Benjamin's keen ear and fluid writing bring to life Regina's Baghdad, both good and bad. More than a stirring story of survival, Last Days in Babylon is a bittersweet portrait of Old World Baghdad and its colorful Jewish community, whose roots predate the birth of Islam by a thousand years and whose culture did much to make Iraq the peaceful desert paradise that has since become a distant memory. In 2004 Benjamin visited Baghdad for the first time, searching for the remains of its once vital Jewish community. What she discovered will haunt anyone who seeks to understand a country that continues to command the world's attention, just as it did when Regina Sehayek proudly walked through Baghdad's streets. By turns moving and funny, Last Days in Babylon is an adventure story, a riveting history, and a timely reminder that behind today's headlines are real people whose lives are caught -- too often tragically -- in the crossfire of misunderstanding, age-old prejudice, and geopolitical ambition.


Compare

Marina Benjamin grew up in London feeling estranged from her family's exotic Middle Eastern ways. She refused to speak the Arabic her mother and grandmother spoke at home. She rejected the peculiar food they ate in favor of hamburgers and beer. But when Benjamin had her own child a few years ago, she realized that she was losing her link to the past. In Last Days in Baby Marina Benjamin grew up in London feeling estranged from her family's exotic Middle Eastern ways. She refused to speak the Arabic her mother and grandmother spoke at home. She rejected the peculiar food they ate in favor of hamburgers and beer. But when Benjamin had her own child a few years ago, she realized that she was losing her link to the past. In Last Days in Babylon, Benjamin delves into the story of her family's life among the Jews of Iraq in the first half of the twentieth century. When Iraq gained independence in 1932, Jews were the largest and most prosperous ethnic group in Baghdad. They dominated trade and finance, hobnobbed with Iraqi dignitaries, and lived in grandiose villas on the banks of the Tigris. Just twenty years later the community had been utterly ravaged, its members effectively expelled from the country by a hostile Iraqi government. Benjamin's grandmother Regina Sehayek lived through it all. Born in 1905, when Baghdad was still under Ottoman control, her childhood was a virtual idyll. This privileged existence was barely touched when the British marched into Iraq. But with the rise of Arab nationalism and the first stirrings of anti-Zionism, Regina, then a young mother, began to have dark premonitions of what was to come. By the time Iraq was galvanized by war, revolution, and regicide, Regina was already gone, her hair-raising escape a tragic exodus from a land she loved -- and a permanent departure from the husband whose gentle guiding hand had made her the woman she was. Benjamin's keen ear and fluid writing bring to life Regina's Baghdad, both good and bad. More than a stirring story of survival, Last Days in Babylon is a bittersweet portrait of Old World Baghdad and its colorful Jewish community, whose roots predate the birth of Islam by a thousand years and whose culture did much to make Iraq the peaceful desert paradise that has since become a distant memory. In 2004 Benjamin visited Baghdad for the first time, searching for the remains of its once vital Jewish community. What she discovered will haunt anyone who seeks to understand a country that continues to command the world's attention, just as it did when Regina Sehayek proudly walked through Baghdad's streets. By turns moving and funny, Last Days in Babylon is an adventure story, a riveting history, and a timely reminder that behind today's headlines are real people whose lives are caught -- too often tragically -- in the crossfire of misunderstanding, age-old prejudice, and geopolitical ambition.

30 review for Last Days in Babylon: The Exile of Iraq's Jews, the Story of My Family

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jan-Maat

    A curiosity about a curiosity, the disappearing Jewish community of Baghdad, this book combines a not very good history of Iraqi Jews in the 20th century with a not very good history of the author's grandmother that manages somehow to be more than the sum of its parts and to slip a dart of melancholy into the reader's heart, the tea half drunk suddenly tastes of crushed dreams and soiled hopes rather than of lemons (view spoiler)[ no I'm being melodramatic - tea half drunk, who am I trying to fo A curiosity about a curiosity, the disappearing Jewish community of Baghdad, this book combines a not very good history of Iraqi Jews in the 20th century with a not very good history of the author's grandmother that manages somehow to be more than the sum of its parts and to slip a dart of melancholy into the reader's heart, the tea half drunk suddenly tastes of crushed dreams and soiled hopes rather than of lemons (view spoiler)[ no I'm being melodramatic - tea half drunk, who am I trying to fool?(view spoiler)[ also I have become disturbed by the low number of spoilers in my most recent reviews (hide spoiler)] (hide spoiler)] . I think it works oddly because the author is, in a way a failure, her mother and grandmother Baghdad Jews in London exile, the grandmother living a circle of similar old women all yakking away in Arabic about the long vanished glories of sweet treats and pastries, but the author grew up speaking English, another kind of exile, and when as this book begins she goes to Iraq a year after the US occupation she claims to her Shia guide that her grandmother was an Armenian Christian. The book as a whole then becomes a confession powered by peccavi. This, she says, is where I came from and part of what I am. A very short account of the Baghdad Jews in the 20th century is that at the beginning of the century there were about 200,000, a third or so of the population of Baghdad, completely dominating the commercial life of the city, the community had family links to Jewish communities in Iran and India, such links were also trading links. By the time of the American occupation the community numbered about one dozen, there was one man and one woman of both of breeding age (view spoiler)[ it's hard to get the notion of a critically endangered species out of my head, which I know is hardly polite (hide spoiler)] - but they didn't get on, the last wedding had been in 1982, the last Bar Mitzvah in 1978. There were some hopes of introducing some of the older men who were still of marriageable age to eligible women from the Iranian Jewish community which apparently totals perhaps 20,000. But as you know, hope was the last and most pernicious of our ills to escape Pandora's box. In the earlier sections the family history is the weaker component, this seemed to be the author's recollections of her Grandmother's stories, chopped up and repurposed to illustrate the larger narrative. This requires both her maternal great grandfather and maternal grandfathers to die and then to pop up afterwards in extra stories, for the maternal grandfather to loose all his money due to the outbreak of war and the refusal of his British partners to honour a contract (view spoiler)[ beware the British (hide spoiler)] only afterwards for his widow to have sufficient capital to invest in the futures market and to have wealth to carefully smuggle out of the country before emigrating in the 1950s, and the focus on a very wealthy internationally connected family probably gives an untypical view of iraqi Jewish life, which didn't have French lessons and thwarted hopes of becoming a lawyer for all. Also in narrative terms her family story only gets beyond the odd anecdote level once her maternal grandmother decides that there is no point in remaining in Iraq and hatches a cunning plan to escape the country via India with her three children to a land of central heating and double glazing, namely London (view spoiler)[ which doesn't sound much like my memories of London in the 70s and 80s, single glazing, a gas fire and autumnal fogs thick enough to eat (hide spoiler)] . If you are a little acquainted with the recent history of the world, you may have already guessed that the appearance of the state of Israel in one way or another was an important event in the story, but what struck me was how this linked to the current state of Iraq and its ongoing struggle to achieve some form of non-authoritarian or oppressive administration, without getting too misty eyed over the end of the Ottoman Empire how this was a product of the arrival of the idea of nationalism. From early on, the future pattern was revealed with then colonial secretary Winston Churchill suggesting the best way to deal with separatists was poison gas attacks from the air, massacres of Christians and military action against the Kurds in the 1920s promised no bright future for a state composed of minorities, the brief and bloody existence of the so called Islamic Caliphate in recent years only the most recent and extreme attempt to define a nation in the region through exclusion. We might observe that much the same process occurred in Europe, but the slower pace made all the difference, when nation building or rebuilding is occurring rapidly we tend to seethe mass population expulsions and massacres as groups scramble to make themselves in to the defining majority group. First Arab nationalism held out perhaps some promise, in theory one could be an Arab first, Sunni, Sh'ia, Jewish, or Christian second, however at the same time Sunni were politically dominant and disinclined to share power, Italian Fascism captured the imagination and later in the 1930s German fascists were active as propagandists in Iraq, the country went through a series of coups, the British overthrew the government during WWII. There were riots which targeted Jews who as a community moved from supplying six representatives to parliament and providing the occasional government minister under the first King to persecuted minority, after 1948 the writing was on the wall and over a decade or two the Jewish population rapidly declined as they fled abroad - direct travel to Israel was impossible, but one could go via Cyprus or Iran. However if one went one had to renounce Iraqi citizenship and what one could take out of the country was strictly limited (view spoiler)[ three suits of winter clothing, three of summer clothing, six sets of underwear, one watch, one narrow bracelet etc (hide spoiler)] the assets of departing Jews were seized all of which sent out its own very clear message. In the final couple of chapters Marina Benjamin manages to meets the last surviving Baghdad Jews, there's a sharp introduction to Jewish anti-Zionism, coupled with the often difficult experience of 'oriental' Jews in Israel. Some of the last surviving Baghdad Jews argue for remaining on the basis of the communities deep roots, heritage and culture, but in the context of the book this seems rather like accepting the inevitability of periods of persecution and violence as part of the natural order of things as though we must accept poaching and predating of endangered minorities as an inevitable cost of their continued existence in their natural environment. One's lasting sense is that this book is not just a personal mia culpa to the author's mother and grandmother, nor a requiem for a vanishing community but it is or will be the community, the future of iraqi Jews is the perpetuation of sharing their heritage through books like this one, not a pluralistic and free society between the Tigris and the Euphrates.

  2. 4 out of 5

    ShamSham

    In the "Last Days of Babylon," Marina Benjamin provides a valued addition to the literature on the Iraqi Jewish community, both as a history and as a family memoir. Given its human perspective, the book is accessible, engaging and offers a more intimate portrait of Iraqi Jews, especially of the role of women in society, than any academic work could present. Benjamin would better serve her audience though if she did not feel the need to offer her "unabashedly liberal, postcolonial, multiracial con In the "Last Days of Babylon," Marina Benjamin provides a valued addition to the literature on the Iraqi Jewish community, both as a history and as a family memoir. Given its human perspective, the book is accessible, engaging and offers a more intimate portrait of Iraqi Jews, especially of the role of women in society, than any academic work could present. Benjamin would better serve her audience though if she did not feel the need to offer her "unabashedly liberal, postcolonial, multiracial convictions." Symptomatic of this, she incredulously decided to devote the concluding pages of her work to condemning Israel's treatment of Iraqi Jews. Fortunately, Benjamin's views do not impair her ability to give a generally accurate historical account, though at one point she laughably describes the restrictive "dhimmi" legal apparatus formerly instituted on the Jews as "a fair deal by most measures." Ironically, while Benjamin wrote this book to recapture her Iraqi Jewish heritage, her ideological worldview illustrates how alienated she is from her more conservative compatriots. Despite these vexations, still highly recommended.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Tracy

    I quite enjoyed this book. Unlike the reviewer below, I found the book to in fact be quite relevant to current-day events, inasmuch as I feel a good understanding of a nation's history is useful in understanding its present situation. (Admittedly, I have both an interest in history generally and in the Middle East specifically, including Iraqi Jewry, so it may be easier for me to enjoy a book like this, than for a reader who does not share those interests.) For me one of the draws of this book wa I quite enjoyed this book. Unlike the reviewer below, I found the book to in fact be quite relevant to current-day events, inasmuch as I feel a good understanding of a nation's history is useful in understanding its present situation. (Admittedly, I have both an interest in history generally and in the Middle East specifically, including Iraqi Jewry, so it may be easier for me to enjoy a book like this, than for a reader who does not share those interests.) For me one of the draws of this book was its inclusion of general Iraqi history as well as the author's specific family history -- I was able to learn more about the nation while also learning about a particular family. Also interesting was her return to modern-day Iraq to visit the tiny and declining Jewish community there -- a poignant state of affairs given how large and bustling that ancient community once was. Readers interested in Arab Jewish history, the Jewish Diaspora, and the history of Iraq and/or the Middle East, would probably enjoy this book and the wealth of information it contains.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Diana

    I learned about a group's history, the Jews of Baghdad, and the dissolution of their community, through the eyes of a foreigh-born, daughter of the community. Well-written, although sometimes erratic, I enjoyed the history, especially as it moved more towards the modern era. I learned about a group's history, the Jews of Baghdad, and the dissolution of their community, through the eyes of a foreigh-born, daughter of the community. Well-written, although sometimes erratic, I enjoyed the history, especially as it moved more towards the modern era.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Jo

    A fascinating book which is both a story of one family and also the story of a nation (Iraq) which so clearly demonstrates how the post World War I break up and division of the Ottoman Empire by European powers led to the conflicts, issues and ethnic divisions we have today. I loved the story of the family which also speaks of Jewish families in other parts of the world where once there were thriving communities, now there are sadly a sparse few families or individuals. A fascinating book and so A fascinating book which is both a story of one family and also the story of a nation (Iraq) which so clearly demonstrates how the post World War I break up and division of the Ottoman Empire by European powers led to the conflicts, issues and ethnic divisions we have today. I loved the story of the family which also speaks of Jewish families in other parts of the world where once there were thriving communities, now there are sadly a sparse few families or individuals. A fascinating book and so beautifully written.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Hilary

    An excellent account of the gradual elimination of the Jewish community from Baghdad over the course of the 20th century through the experiences of one family. Having lived peacefully in Iraq for 2,700 years and once numbering 150,000, the Jewish population was driven out by systematic persecution and has now been almost eliminated in what amounts to an act of ethnic cleansing. Well balanced, well researched, well written and full of sound historical information.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Sara Calle Skinner

    Moving book about the plight of Iraqi Jews, leaving a very comfortable life in Baghdad due to persecution. As an immigrant how much easier to adapt to a new culture when you are young but very difficult when you are older. Regina was an intrepid woman and took the difficult but best decision for her family to leave Baghdad for a new life in England!

  8. 5 out of 5

    Gary Misch

    Iraq has been strong on the U.S. radar since the 2003 invasion. This book won't give Americans any great insights the Iraqi reaction to the invasion, but it will provide an excellent window into both Iraqi and Jewish Iraqi history from 1900 through the forced exile of the Iraqi Jews. The author's return to Iraq in the midst of the last war to see the remains of the once thriving community is a preview of what is now happening in Iraq to other minority communities such as various Christian sects. Iraq has been strong on the U.S. radar since the 2003 invasion. This book won't give Americans any great insights the Iraqi reaction to the invasion, but it will provide an excellent window into both Iraqi and Jewish Iraqi history from 1900 through the forced exile of the Iraqi Jews. The author's return to Iraq in the midst of the last war to see the remains of the once thriving community is a preview of what is now happening in Iraq to other minority communities such as various Christian sects. Since the author experienced none of the events first hand, she was clearly an expert interviewer and researcher. The photos that she sought out give an excellent feel for the material. I highly recommend the book for its richness of detail. As the title suggests, the bias is toward the family history, so if you are looking to the book for a more general history of Iraq, you will be disappointed, however, this family's history is also an interesting cultural record of the Jewish-Iraqi community during the period 1900-1955.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Yelena Malcolm

    I don't remember adding this book to my Amazon wishlist, but it was given to me as a birthday gift and thought I'd give it a try. It was interesting, but not really very interesting, as a woman goes to trace half of her family's past in Iraq, where there are no people left from her family's community. Another candidate for the 2.5 point rating. There are no meetings of long lost relatives, and little information that is currently relevant. Given that it takes place in present-day Iraq, there was I don't remember adding this book to my Amazon wishlist, but it was given to me as a birthday gift and thought I'd give it a try. It was interesting, but not really very interesting, as a woman goes to trace half of her family's past in Iraq, where there are no people left from her family's community. Another candidate for the 2.5 point rating. There are no meetings of long lost relatives, and little information that is currently relevant. Given that it takes place in present-day Iraq, there was much that was depressing, but despite that, there was something interesting about the story of Arab Jews and their experiences emigrating to Israel and beyond.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Marti

    This is quite a different book from ones that I usually read. It was lent to me by my friend Ruth Donnocker, who read it for a book group. It is quite interesting, telling a lot about Jewish people in Baghdad and Iraq as well. The Jews had co-existed there for 2700 years, since the Diaspora, but gradually things got worse for them, and the author's family emigrated first to Calcutta, and then to England. She tells their story, and how, after the fall of Saddam Hussein, she took a trip to Baghdad This is quite a different book from ones that I usually read. It was lent to me by my friend Ruth Donnocker, who read it for a book group. It is quite interesting, telling a lot about Jewish people in Baghdad and Iraq as well. The Jews had co-existed there for 2700 years, since the Diaspora, but gradually things got worse for them, and the author's family emigrated first to Calcutta, and then to England. She tells their story, and how, after the fall of Saddam Hussein, she took a trip to Baghdad, leaving behind her husband and young daughter, to meet the dozen Jews left there. It is amazing what some of the people had to endure.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Rdonn

    I was fascinated by this little known story of the exodus of the Jews from Iraq. Benjamin researches her grandmother's life and goes to Iraq at a terrible time to try and piece together her story, not really a Holocaust story, but persecution and abuse drove a once thriving community out of the country, with only a handful left there. It is an enlightening book, a biography but even more a history book. I was fascinated by this little known story of the exodus of the Jews from Iraq. Benjamin researches her grandmother's life and goes to Iraq at a terrible time to try and piece together her story, not really a Holocaust story, but persecution and abuse drove a once thriving community out of the country, with only a handful left there. It is an enlightening book, a biography but even more a history book.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Beverly

    Marina Benjamin travels to war torn Iraq in order to connect with her family's past. Her grandmother Regina brought her 2 daughters and her son to England in the 1950's. When Marina had her daughter she became interested in her Iraqi heritage. She uses her family to highlight the changes affecting the Jews in Iraq from the 1920's to 2007. Capsule account of the political and social changes that have occurred in Iraq. Personalized by showing how one family handled the changes. Marina Benjamin travels to war torn Iraq in order to connect with her family's past. Her grandmother Regina brought her 2 daughters and her son to England in the 1950's. When Marina had her daughter she became interested in her Iraqi heritage. She uses her family to highlight the changes affecting the Jews in Iraq from the 1920's to 2007. Capsule account of the political and social changes that have occurred in Iraq. Personalized by showing how one family handled the changes.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Cindie

    Really enjoyed this book..it was interesting to read and learn about a family in Iraq as well as a Jewish family. I have read a couple of other books about Iraq and so this was fun to add to my collection. Before reading this particular book was unaware of Jews in Iraq and this gave me increased understanding. It was hard to keep up with all of the different leaders but still got a taste for life in Iraq. Would recommend it to others.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Cindie

    My very favorite kind of history: boudoir history. Mostly family history, actually, but a bonus was a whole different perspective on the birth of Israel, as well as modern day Iraq and Iran, from the eyes of a family of Mizrahi Jews. Like all good books can and should do, this one left me with a brand new perspective of the world.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Arithmomaniac

    This history of Iraqi Jews in the 20th century is remarkable not just because of how well the author covers the topic (even traveling there after the US invasion to meet the last two dozen Jews), but because she skillfully weaves it with her own family history in a manner that is easy to read, yet feels natural.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Pamela

    I loved this book for the insights it gave me about the plight of the Jewish people in Baghdad.The members of my book group would not accept this book as a monthly read because it was too sad. I think that is sad.. that people in the US are oblivious to the suffering of other cultures and then do not even want to hear about it. They wanted stories with happier endings.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Louise Brown

    Fascinating story of the last hundred years of the Jews of Iraq with added heart and texture from Benjamin's own family's experience. Moving and interesting, I was left wanting to hear more about her grandmother and mother's experience of Britain, however, so hope there'll be a follow up. Fascinating story of the last hundred years of the Jews of Iraq with added heart and texture from Benjamin's own family's experience. Moving and interesting, I was left wanting to hear more about her grandmother and mother's experience of Britain, however, so hope there'll be a follow up.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Elise Roders

    I read Last Days in Babylon because its author, Marina Benjamin, was one of my tutors at an Arvon-week. I knew close to nothing about the history of Jews in Baghdad. Reading about it through the author's family history was very interesting. I read Last Days in Babylon because its author, Marina Benjamin, was one of my tutors at an Arvon-week. I knew close to nothing about the history of Jews in Baghdad. Reading about it through the author's family history was very interesting.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Elaine Vandenberg

    Very well written book and enlightening as a family story. I really enjoyed this book.. Marina did so much research actually in Iraq at a very dangerous time. She did so well and prepared so well. She's an excellent writer. Very well written book and enlightening as a family story. I really enjoyed this book.. Marina did so much research actually in Iraq at a very dangerous time. She did so well and prepared so well. She's an excellent writer.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Marita

    Makes you think about what happened in the Middle East way back when to today

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jessica Feinstein

    Excellent! Really good mix of personal and political/historical.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Krishna Sruthi Srivalsan

  23. 4 out of 5

    Geri F

  24. 5 out of 5

    Alexandra

  25. 5 out of 5

    Danii

  26. 4 out of 5

    Greg

  27. 4 out of 5

    M

  28. 5 out of 5

    Mohamed Magdy

  29. 4 out of 5

    Trudy O'Hara

  30. 4 out of 5

    Daniela

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...
We use cookies to give you the best online experience. By using our website you agree to our use of cookies in accordance with our cookie policy.