The fascinating story of the Iraqi Jews told through one family's story.
Marina Benjamin grew up in London feeling estranged from her family's Middle Eastern ways, refusing to speak the Arabic her mother and grandmother spoke at home and rejecting the peculiar food they ate. But when Benjamin had her own child, she realised that she was losing her link to the past. And so, in 2004, Benjamin visited Baghdad for the first time, searching for her family's history amongst the remains of its once vital Jewish community, the roots of which predate the birth of Islam by a thousand years. What she discovered will haunt anyone who seeks to understand a country whose ongoing struggles continue to command the world's attention. When Iraq gained independence in 1932, Jews were the largest and most prosperous ethnic group in Baghdad. 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 Sekayek lived through it all: born in 1905, her life of privilege was little affected when the British marched into Iraq. But with the rise of Arab nationalism and the first stirrings of anti-Zionism, Regina began to have dark premonitions of what was to come. By the time Iraq was galvanised by war, revolution and regicide, Regina was already gone, wrenched from her beloved husband in a hair-raising escape from her homeland.
Benjamin's keen ear and fluid, elegant writing bring Regina's Baghdad to vibrant life. 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 in the crossfire of misunderstanding, age-old prejudice, and geopolitical ambition.
Marina Benjamin has worked as a journalist for fifteen years. She was arts editor of the New Statesman and deputy arts editor at the Evening Standard. Her last book, Rocket Dreams, was shortlisted for the Eugene Emme Literature Award. Marina lives in London with her husband and daughter.
Biography & Autobiography