The Comparative Literature Undergraduate Journal

A Premier Humanities Research Journal at the University of California, Berkeley

In Search of Lost Space: Memories of Baghdad in Iraqi-Jewish Literature

In Search of Lost Space: Memories of Baghdad in Iraqi-Jewish Literature
Pelle Valentin Olsen

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The primary aim of this paper is to examine how the two short stories, Ṭanṭal by Samīr Naqqāš (1938-2004) and Fī al-madīna al-suflā by Šimʿūn Ballāṣ (b. 1930) relate to and describe Baghdad and Iraqi-Jewish history using personal memories as their starting point. Through a critical reading I show how the two stories flout the Zionist narrative by mapping and recreating Jewish Bagdad by means of an extensive network of sites of memory and memory communities that all tell alternative stories about Jewish life in Iraq. Both short stories, however, problematize memory’s ability to recreate the lost space. Therefore, I argue, the quality of the two stories ought to be found, not in their possibility for an exact and accurate representation of the past, but in their questioning of the hitherto indisputable and given.

In 1948, a multifarious conglomerate of events and sentiments incited anti-Jewish feelings in Iraq and especially in Baghdad. The 2600 year long Jewish presence in Iraq was rapidly heading for ruin. During the mass exodus of 1948 to 1951, approximately 120,000 Iraqi Jews emigrated from Iraq to Israel. The cultural rupture caused by this abrupt dislocation brought fourth a relatively large, yet almost unknown corpus of Iraqi-Jewish writing. Contrary to this body of literature, the Zionist narrative of Jewish emigration to Israel is a story about a people who, delivered from the hardships of exile (galut), finally returns to the “Homeland,” to Eretz Yisrael. Moreover, in the lens of the Zionist narrative, the Arab-Jews, or the “Jews of Arab lands” as the Zionist narrative would have it, came from nowhere, from a backward and primitive cultural void. However, recently scholars have begun to raise questions of the legitimacy and historicity of the Zionist narrative. The Zionist version of Jewish history, which is wholly monolithic, have forced through and made universal the experience of the European Jews while ignoring and deliberately erasing the many and versatile pluralistic versions of Arab-Jewish histories. Following the post-Zionists, as this new intellectual current is called, it is pertinent to insist upon the long and illustrious Arab-Jewish history outside Israel as an era in and of itself.

In this paper, my aim is to investigate how memories of the Iraqi and Mizrahi[1]-Jewish experience, which are de-canonized in, as well as from, the Zionist narrative, crystallizes in literature. By asking this question, my intention is to critically examine the literary memory of Jewish Baghdad and the ways in which the city, from the vantage point of a lost space, is being “written.”  In addition, this paper will probe the potential of a Mizrahi counter-memory and alternative narrative orchestrated in the literature – a counter-memory that might evade, rearrange and flout the Zionist narrative. Finally, I will discuss the reliability and usefulness of literary memories.

I am inspired by the post-Zionist critiques of Zionism and this inspiration, naturally, reflects my choice in terms of empirical texts, method and theory. I approach this subject with the short story Ṭanṭal[2] by Samīr Naqqāš (1938-2004) and Fī al-madīna al-suflā[3] by Šimʿūn Ballāṣ (b. 1930) as my empirical starting point. Both authors were born in Baghdad, but immigrated to Israel with their families in 1951. When I have based this paper on texts by Naqqāš and Ballāṣ it is because I read them as essential exponents of a vanguard, an early and pungent – yet on the whole neglected and disregarded – critique of Zionism from the inside, long before it was brought, in earnest, to the forefront of public attention by, among others, Israel’s “new historians.” However, since I believe that much critique of Zionism has failed to adequately include voices and sources in Arabic, I have found it absolutely necessary to investigate texts in Arabic hitherto neglected. The two short stories at hand are obvious works to examine as they deal with the Jewish experience in Baghdad and the subsequent dislocation in Israel as well.

In terms of a method, I will offer a critical reading of the two short stories. In addition, my method draws on the post-Zionist current, which, in tune with postcolonial scholarship, seeks to convert power relations by rewriting Eurocentric notions of identity, memory and history. Although I do not believe that the study of literary texts should be detached completely from their authors, in the present context, well aware of alternative methods, I do not wish to dwell too much on the authors.

From a theoretical point, I will draw on Maurice Halbwachs’ work on mèmoire collective and Pierre Nora’s notion of lieux de mémoire – sites of memory – to describe the location of memories and the memory economy and hierarchy at work in the texts. In terms of structure, I find it appropriate to commence with some remarks on the Jewish presence in Iraq and then give an account of the Arab-Jews in the Zionist narrative as well as in that of post-Zionism. I will then move on to my analysis of Ṭanṭal and Fī al-madīna al-suflā.

Iraqi-Jewish History and the Narrative of Zionism

I don’t exist in this country, not as a writer, a citizen nor a human being. I don’t feel that I belong anywhere, not since my roots were torn from the ground.[4]

– Samīr Naqqāš

The Jews of Iraq: A Short Historical Overview

Since this paper deals with Iraqi-Jewish literature, I will account only for the Iraqi-Jewish history herein. In what follows, I attempt to locate the Jewish community in Iraq – and especially in Baghdad – and to make lucid the events that led to its departure for Israel. Priority will be given to the modern history of Iraq.

The Jewish community in Iraq can trace its history back to the Babylonian captivity of the sixth century BCE.[5] The conquest of Judah by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BCE exiled the inhabitants of Judah to Babylon where they joined the Jewish community present in Babylon due to the first Jewish exile in 719 BCE. When Cyrus, king of the Persians, allowed them to return to Jerusalem in 538 BCE, many decided to stay.[6] With the emergence of Islam in 635 CE, the Jewish minority was given the status of ḏimmī: the Jews were a tolerated religious minority, enjoyed the protection of the state, and were exempted from military service, but had to pay a certain poll tax – the ğizya.[7] During the medieval period, many Jews relocated to Baghdad due to the centralization of government and the thriving commerce. The process of urbanization was further enhanced during the Ottoman rule and especially between 1869-1872 when Midhat Pasha, the governor of Baghdad, implemented land and educational reforms. In 1869, the opening of the Suez Canal allowed the Jewish community in Iraq to utilize their newly established position in trade and commerce. The urbanization of the Jewish community continued after the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire and, when the First World War had ended, Jews comprised the biggest minority group in the capital.[8] Their presence in the capital and their high level of education, as well as their knowledge of both Arabic and English, enabled the Iraqi-Jews to take up high positions in the administration during the British occupation and mandate from 1917-1932.[9]

During the early years of the newly established Iraqi state, a complex set of domestic, regional and international factors fused to undermine the status of the Iraqi-Jews. During this period, according to Norman Stillman, “the Jews [of Arab lands] found themselves torn among the conflicting forces of Zionism, Arab nationalism, and European colonialism, while they were also being pulled by apolitical economic aspirations.”[10] When King Ġāzī (1912-1939) died in 1939 he was succeeded by his son, Faisal (1935-1958), after whom a pro-British coalition assumed power. This coalition was challenged by a group of politicians critical of the British and in 1941, the pro-German politician Rašīd ʿAlī al-Ǧaylānī (1892-1965), backed by the army, led a military coup that overturned the pro-British Government. In May 1941, the British staged a counter-coup to prevent al-Ǧaylānī from entering into an alliance with Germany. As the British army approached Baghdad, al-Ǧaylānī and his associates fled the country. Al-Ǧaylānī’s flight created a power vacuum which the pro-German minister of economics, Yūnus al-Sabawī, took advantage of. Riots broke out and for two days the Jews of Baghdad were victims of violence, arson, and looting. During the Farhūd, which is the name given to the pogrom by the Jews, 179 Jews were killed and much property was destroyed.[11] Although the Farhūd did not spread to other parts of Iraq, it did bring about reactions from large segments of the Jewish community. Some reconsidered the Zionist option, which had not gained much sympathy among the Iraqi-Jews before the Farhūd.[12] However, according to Berg, “the Jewish community recovered quickly from the trauma of the Farhūd” and many dismissed it as a “freak incident.”[13] Here it should also be noted that many Muslims protected their Jewish neighbors during the Farhūd and that even after the proclamation of the state of Israel, which strengthened the anti-Jewish sentiments, new Jewish schools were built and the majority of the Iraqi Jews remained somewhat optimistic and reluctant towards the Zionist cause.[14] However, the Farhūd did give rise to a more active Zionist movement than its predecessor. The movement planned and later carried out the emigration. The communists, on the other hand, blamed the Farhūd for the Iraqi political system, and they attracted Jewish youth from the other end of the political spectrum.

The mass exodus of Iraqi-Jews to Israel began in 1948 and lasted until 1951. Until March 1950, when the Law of Denaturalization was brought into action, emigration was illegal. With the new law, Jews were allowed to leave for Israel on the condition that they renounced their Iraqi citizenship.[15] In August 1951, when the mass exodus ended, a total of 121, 512 Iraqi-Jews had left for Israel. However, it is pertinent to note that the main motivator for the emigration was not Zionism. In fact, most Iraqi-Jews did not share any ideological affinity with Zionism. Their motive, excluding the Zionists, seems to have been general feelings of insecurity and apprehension about the future rather than a genuine nationalist desire for emigration in a Zionist sense.[16]

The Arab-Jews in the Zionist Narrative

In the Zionist master-narrative, the mass exodus of the Iraqi-Jews was incorporated into the story of the European Jews. To understand the real impact this had on the shaping of Mizrahi-identity and memory, it is important to examine Zionism’s foundational myth.

According to historian Gabriel Piterbeg, the Zionist foundational myth expresses itself in several ways, namely through the “negation of exile” (shelilat ha-galut), the “return to the Land of Israel (ha-shiva le-Eretz Yisrael), and the “return to history” (ha-shiva la-historia).[17] The “negation of exile” links an ancient Jewish past and a present that revitalizes the past by resettlement in Palestine. Between the two – the ancient past and the present in Palestine, exile and its negation – there is nothing except a provisional and temporary period. The non-territorial provisional period in Jewish history holds no significance in the Zionist narrative. During the exile, as the Zionist myth would have it, Jewish life consisted of waiting for emigration (aliya).[18] The “return to history,” on the other hand, is informed by a notion of history akin to that found in romantic nationalism and German historicism as practiced by Hegel.[19] Following this chain of reasoning, the Jewish people existed only outside history as long as they did not have a nation and a homeland. Only by surmounting the passivity of the exile could the Jewish people reenter into the history of civilized nations.[20]

Concerning the location of the Arab-Jews in the Zionist narrative, Piterberg’s elucidation of shelilat ha-galut, ha-shiva le-Eretz Yisrael, and ha-shiva la-historia proves viable since it is to these three domains that the Arab-Jews have been allocated and subjugated. The following quotes by David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first Prime minister, shed light on this:

Their customs are those of Arabs….The Culture of Morocco I would not like to have here. And I don’t see what contribution present [Jewish] Persians have to make….We do not want the Israelis to become Arabs. We are in duty bound to fight against the spirit of the Levant, which corrupts societies, and preserve the authentic Jewish values as they crystallized in the [European] Diaspora.[21]

The Land of Israel was the birthplace of the Jewish People. Here their spiritual, religious and national identity was formed. Here they achieved independence and created a culture of national and universal significance….Exiled from Israel, the Jewish people remained faithful to it in all countries of their dispersion.[22]

What is important in the statements above is the way in which Ben Gurion canonizes the European, Ashkenazi-Jewish experience of life in the Diaspora. It is the Ashkenazi experience of life in exile, which is authentic and therefore also universal. Hence, according to Ben Gurion, the exile in which Jews have lived is “a miserable, poor, wretched, dubious experience, and it shouldn’t be a source of pride, on the contrary – it should be comprehensively negated.”[23] Here, Ben Gurion has it out with the powerless condition of life in exile. Moreover, he does away with the trope of the weak and defenseless European Jew, who, in exile, was at the mercy of the gentile majority. The “ingathering” of the exiles and the negation of the exile were the only ways to overcome the passivity and the powerlessness of the Jews. However, by viewing emigration as the redemption of an allegedly universal Jewish mode of being, the Zionist narrative automatically subjugated the Arab-Jews to the same story of emigration as an act of devotion.[24]

Regarding the notion of a return to history, the ha-shiva la-historia, the Zionist master-narrative has also taken upon itself to speak for the Arab-Jews. Such a notion of history rejects everything, which is located between the Babylonian exile in 586 BCE and the return to Israel in 1948-1951. In fact, this implies that the Arab-Jews, and in our case the Iraqi-Jews, did not enter history until their arrival in Israel. Following the Zionist narrative, not only did the Arab Jews live outside of history, they also had to be saved from the backward culture of their Arab jailers. In 1949, journalist Arye Gelblum wrote in the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz:

We are dealing with people whose primitivism is at a peak, whose level of knowledge is one of virtually absolute ignorance, and worse who have little talent for understanding anything intellectual. Generally, they are only slightly better than the general level of the Arabs, Negroes and Berbers in the same regions….These Jews also lack roots in Judaism as they are subordinated to the play of savage and primitive instincts. [25]

The impetus behind this statement is ingrained in the Zionist “historical” narrative. The fact that most Arab-Jews, and the Iraqi-Jews in particular, were urban dwellers and possessed a very high level of education is devalued in this version of history. Arab-Jewish culture was perceived as static and passive, and the primitivism obtained from living among Arabs was something to be overcome before the “Oriental” Jews could effectively re-enter into history. Adopting the Arab-Jews into the canonized European Zionist narrative meant that no space was left for the ways in which Arab culture might have contributed to the shaping of a collective Mizrahi culture and identity over the almost 3000 year long period in which Arab-Jews called Iraq their home.[26]

The Zionist taxonomy, which consists of the dichotomies “exile/homeland” and “Arab/Jew”, is the focal point of the post-Zionist critique. In what follows, I will account for the post-Zionist turn in the study of Mizrahi-Jews. I will achieve this with three seminal post-Zionist writers as my point of departure.

Alternative Representations and the Mizrahi Narrative

How come a Christian can be an Arab but a Jew cannot? Why should it arouse such amazement, then, when I say that I am an Arab Jew? I am always told that I am Iraqi. Where is Iraq – on the moon?[27]

– Šimʿūn Ballāṣ


Post-Zionism is a conglomeration of the views of different scholars from different academic disciplines. The post-Zionists draw mainly on cultural studies, postcolonial, and postmodern theory. The post-Zionists, rather than focus on the methodology employed by Zionist scholarship, focus on “the discursive and representational practices through which scholars produce their representations and interpretations.”[28] Accordingly, they engage in an attempt to show how Zionism is a hegemonic discourse that canonizes a very particular version of Jewish history and experience and de-canonizes other experiences and narratives. In the pages to follow, I will show how the post-Zionists have deconstructed the Zionist discourse, what they install in its place, and how this affects the reading of Mizrahi-history and memory.

Zionist Tracing, Post-Zionist Mapping

To wholly understand the post-Zionist critique it is necessary that we understand how Zionism, as a discourse, has been concerned with tracing rather than mapping. Zionism has sought to trace origins, unities, and essences, thus locking preexisting subjects into fenced-off categories such as “Arab” and “Jew.” Post-Zionism, on the other hand, inspired by Deleuze and Guattari, has used mapping as an anti-essentialist tool. Mapping, according to Deleuze and Guattari, favors multiplicity and heterogeneity and denies any linear and simplistic reading of culture, identity and history.[29] Only by understanding this will it be feasible to find alternatives and engage in a non-futile mapping. In agreement with other discourses, Zionism, according to the post-Zionists, has established what Foucault called a “regime of truth.” Hence, Zionism has power over what can be talked about and how this can be done. In the present case, this means that Zionism governs, for example, how homeland and exile can be talked about. The discourse, however, far from only determining what can be talked and reasoned about, also portrays the knowledge it produces as truth and creates and legitimizes specific power relations.[30]

When Zionism traced Jewish history and identity, the binaries of homeland/exile became of paramount importance. Zionism regarded the movement from exile to homeland as the natural and definitive outcome of Jewish history. “In contrast [to Zionism],” Silberstein writes, “I regard ‘exile’ and ‘homeland,’ together with Zionism’s other categories, as products of discursive processes.”[31] The binaries of homeland/exile and the negation of the exile have been focal points for the post-Zionist mapping. The post-Zionists have tried to elucidate how the privileged status granted to “homeland,” at the expense of “exile,” has led to an underprivileged and highly negative view of Jewish life in exile. The binary structure of homeland/exile permeated down to a multifarious conglomeration of other binary oppositions. For example, the Arab-Jews, since they were the product of exile, were thought of as primitive, inauthentic, antiquated, and incapable of creating anything creative or useful. The New Hebrew subject, on the other hand, redeemed by the act of aliya, was regarded as the diametrical opposite: authentic, modern, and productive.[32] The post-Zionists have accentuated that such binaries necessarily occlude narratives that are peripheral and unhinged from the Zionist master-narrative – a narrative that portrays the Jewish community as a monolithic and homogenous entity.

Also writing in the tradition of post-Zionism, Ella Shohat and Ammiel Alcalay have sought to recuperate and recover Mizrahi-memory and identity de-canonized by the Zionist discourse. The perforation of Zionist discourse and historiography is crucial to both Shohat and Alcalay. They go about this by reclaiming the concrete geo-cultural space that once made up Mizrahi identity and experience. Alcalay speaks of a “Levantine culture” and Shohat of “Judeo-Arabic” culture. In his seminal book, After Jews and Arabs: Remaking Levantine Culture, Alcalay argues that because of the perseverance of the Zionist discourse, “it is almost inconceivable, for instance, to conjure up a world in which the Holy Land [Israel] was just another stop on a familiar and well-traveled route, not the longed-for and mythical ideal ‘solution’ for the Jewish ‘problem.’”[33] However, the Arab-Jews were in fact part of the countries in which they lived and actively engaged in the shaping of a hybrid culture and identity. It is this geo-cultural and polyphonic space that Alcalay calls Levantine culture and Shohat describes as Judeo-Arabic culture. Alcalay attempts to “reimagine” this lost cultural space and history. His method is to reinstate the Arab-Jew in a native space and in a native culture – a space in which the Arab Jew was not an alienated stranger waiting for emigration, but an active contributor to the culture. By reinstating the Arab-Jew in a Levantine native homeland Alcalay dismisses the Zionist binaries of homeland/exile and reverses the categories.[34] In a similar vein, Shohat has argued for a shared Judeo-Arabic past. In her essay, “Rupture and Return: Zionist Discourse and the Study of Arab-Jews,” she writes that “they [the Arab-Jews] were shaped by Arab Muslim culture, while also helping shape that culture in a dialogical process that generated their specific Judeo-Arab identity.”[35] Focusing on the plurality of Arab-Jewish histories rather than the univocal and singular history of Zionism enables her to accentuate the multifarious constellation of synchronous and interacting identities and cultures that existed, for example, in Iraq. By viewing the Arab-Jews through the prism of histories rather than history and by reattaching the Arab-Jews to the geo-cultural space of the Levant, Shohat and Alcalay are able to approach Mizrahi-identity and culture as a relational, fluid, and non-essential entity always in the making. In another essay, Shohat argues for “a relational approach to multicultural studies that does not segregate historical periods and geographical regions into neatly fenced-off areas of expertise, and speaks of communities not in isolation but, rather, ‘in relation.’”[36] Moreover, she argues for “stressing the horizontal and vertical links that thread communities and histories together in a conflictual network.”[37] With the “conflictual network” of Levantine culture and Judeo-Arab identity in mind, we are able to understand why the emigration to Israel was not simply an act of devotion. The Arab-Jews of Baghdad did not just turn into devout Zionists overnight and their uprooting was the outcome of both an Arab society rapidly changing and the temptations of Zionism. Shohat insists on a mapping of Mizrahi-history and identity that does not comprise solely of “tracing the dots from pogrom to pogrom.”[38]

Why I have spent so much time on the post-Zionist critique is because I am convinced that any attempt to change the cultural and political realities will be futile as long as it does not reveal and take into account the rules and taxonomies of the Zionist discourse.[39] I will now turn to Ṭanṭal by Samīr Naqqāš and Fī al-madīna al-suflā by Šimʿūn Ballāṣ, as they are both texts that can be said to embody, redefine, re-vitalize, and re-actualize the post-Zionist critique. The question that remains, however, is how such a reading can be accomplished. How can we read the contested memories of Jewish Baghdad in a way that recuperates not just the Levantine culture and identity, but also the concrete and physical geo-cultural space of Jewish Baghdad?

Theory: People and Places – Mémoire Collective and Lieux de Mémoire

Since it is my intention in this paper to accentuate how the writings of Naqqāš and Ballāṣ work as a prism that elucidates, not just the links between the city of Baghdad and a hybrid Mizrahi identity and history, but also the affinity between the city and the self, I have found a need to anchor my analysis in theories that takes into account the geographical as well as the cultural and collective aspects of memory. In other words, before I am able to furnish alternative narratives of the geo-cultural space of Jewish Baghdad mentioned above, theories capable of opening up the alternative narratives hidden in the texts have to be found. While the post-Zionist critique will form the conceptual backdrop of my analysis, my close and minute reading of the two texts will be guided by Maurice Halbwachs’ notion of mèmoire collective and Pierre Nora’s theory of lieux de mémoire.

What makes Halbwachs’ contribution to the field of social memory studies seminal is the link he highlighted, in The Collective Memory, between a social group and collective memory. According to Halbwachs, collective memory is always “socially framed.” By this he means that individuals, when calling memories to mind, draw on the social frameworks of that memory. For example, the individual memory of a community or family cannot be unhinged from the sum of images that make up the community, family or group memory. Hence, according to Halbwachs, “every collective memory requires the support of a group delimited in space and time. The preservation of recollections also rests on their anchorage in space and time.”[40] In addition, individual memory also requires the support of a group in order to extract form and texture. This is possible only by connecting the individual memory to the group or various groups of which the individual is or was a member. Since memory adjusts to our present surroundings and affiliations, we can only trust our memory when it is assisted by the memories of other individuals. Only amidst the group, as Halbwachs writes, can we “reconstruct a body of remembrances.”[41] While the socio-cultural context for Arab-Jewish memory undeniably no longer physically exists, it certainly did so in the past. Fortunately, Halbwachs assures us, the collective memory does not need the actual physical presence of others to preserve the memories of the past. Since I deal with literature written after the exodus of 1948-1951 and therefore long after the Arab-Jewish community had seized to be part of the physical landscape of Baghdad, this notion is of paramount importance. Halbwachs writes:

In fact I continue to be subject to the influence of a society even when I have walked away from it: it is enough that I carry within me, in my spirit, all that allows me to classify myself with reference to its members, to re-immerse myself in their particular milieu and their own particular time, and feel myself very much a part of the group.[42]

What is important to notice here is any given group’s ability to remain united even after it has been scattered and dispersed. This is possible because of the way a group recalls the form and image of its old home. In other words, the spatial trope of the past remains stable because of its anchoring in a shared past, imagined or not.[43] The individual, then, by the act of reminiscing and recalling, is able to stay in contact with the group in which his memories are situated. Remembering the past in a community like that of Arab-Jewish Baghdad, which has been denied in the present and past alike by the Zionist narrative, then takes the form of resistance and counter-memory. The idea of a counter-memory brings us to Pierre Nora.

With the notion of lieux de mémoire, Nora describes the symbolic sites and places where memory resides, manifests itself, and becomes the main tool for a social group’s survival and cohesion when faced with perils that endanger its identity. Drawing on the example of a minority group defending a privileged memory forced to dwell only within the domain of the minority group, Nora sheds light on the characteristics of the lieux de mémoire: “without commemorative vigilance,” he writes, “history would soon sweep them [the lieux de mémoire] away.”[44] Not just Zionist history, but, in fact, all critical history obliterate the concrete sites, places, and images where memory adjourns to hibernate and survive when these places are not commemorated. This brings us to another of Nora’s insights: there is only a need for lieux de mémoire when what they represent and protect is under threat. If history did not seize, alter, and obliterate memory, then there would be no need for memory to haunt and graft itself into the sites around us. In other words, the intention to remember is what erects the lieux de mémoire.[45] Following Nora, the lieux de mémoire are at the same time ordinary and equivocal, malleable and firm, ready for tactile experience and predisposed to the most metaphorical ramifications. They exist simultaneously on material, symbolical and functional levels. The three levels, however, always interact and what they all share is their common goal of pausing time and the work of forgetting thereby creating a pocket for sites, in the most abstract sense of the word, made peripheral and obliterated by the canonized version of history. In fact, what makes a lieu de mémoire a lieu de mémoire is emphatically that it is not part of history.[46] Regarding the symbolic aspects of lieux de mémoire, Nora describes how the dominant and dominated lieux de mémoire coexist. The dominant, he writes, “are spectacular and triumphant, imposing and, generally, imposed – either by a national authority or by an established interest, but always from above.”[47] The dominated lieux de mémoire, on the other hand, are “places of refuge, sanctuaries of devotion and silent pilgrimage where one finds the living heart of memory.”[48] In the case of Mizrahi-Jewish memory and literature, the distinction between dominant and dominated mirrors the hierarchal relationship between public and private, between the Zionist narrative and the Mizrahi narrative, and, finally, the hierarchal relationship between historical and literary memory in which historical memory has been seen as a linear and reliable conduit to knowledge of the past while literary memory has been brushed aside as a fictional distortion of reality. Nora describes these two forms of memory as movements that have run parallel, but always separately. Recently, however, the clear-cut border between the two is blurring.[49] It is here, in the blurring between historical and literary memory that I locate my interest in the Mizrahi narrative as it has crystallized in literature as a rhizomatic network of collective memories and lieux de mémoire peripheral in their relation to the Zionist version of history.

Analysis: Mizrahi Memories and the Literary Representation of Baghdad

The past is not just people and events, it is childhood too.[50]

– Samīr Naqqāš

In very different ways, Naqqāš and Ballāṣ re-create, map and, indeed, re-write the de-canonized geo-cultural space of Jewish Baghdad, which can today only be attained through the retention of their memories. Through their writing, Naqqāš and Ballāṣ bring to the pages of the Hebrew literary canon, a strong and invigorating commentary – a new appendix, so to speak. By looking at this appendix, my aim is to move beyond a mere critique of Zionism and its normative discourse and thus to render viable the historical and literary reconstruction and recuperation of the geo-cultural space of Jewish Baghdad. In other words, I will attempt to furnish what Levy has called the “pre-history of a post-history.”[51] Consequently, I have chosen to look at two novels in Arabic which both aspire to bypass the “negative presence”[52] inflicted on the Arab-Jews in Israel.

The City as Childhood and the Pledge of Memory: Ṭanṭal by Samīr Naqqāš

In Ṭanṭal by Samīr Naqqāš, we follow the nameless dramatized[53] narrator, who I will refer to as “the narrator,” from his prosperous childhood in Baghdad to his troubled youth and early adulthood in Israel. The first part of the short story is rooted in the Baghdad of the narrator’s childhood. Through his friends and family, we are introduced to a network of coexisting narratives, which again function as an introduction to other characters, their stories, and the concrete and physical spaces of Jewish Baghdad. Naqqāš incorporates into the narrative, memories, buildings, architecture, and folkloric elements as sites and objects of memory, which all work to spread out and advance the narrativization of the city. From the infrastructure of memory, the nostalgic recollection of Jewish Baghdad, the second part of the novel takes us to a transit camp in Israel in the immediate aftermath of the mass exodus in 1951. In Israel, the memories of life in Baghdad are juxtaposed to the harsh realities of the camp. In the last part of the story, the narrator, who is now a young adult, returns to Israel in the 1970s after several years spent abroad. Disillusioned and despairing, he finds that little has changed in the camps. Through the entire story, the folkloric figure of Ṭanṭal functions as prosthesis of the narrator’s memory and reveals details about Jewish life in Iraq. A state of equilibrium between the narrator’s ever-changing belief and disbelief in Ṭanṭal is not reached until the very end of the story when he sees Ṭanṭal with his own eyes. At this moment, Naqqāš introduces Ṭanṭal, and through him Jewish life in Baghdad, as a de-canonized and double peripheral – because of Ṭanṭal’s folkloric origin, memory which he exacts us to reckon with. However, during the course of events, the narrators as well as the other characters destabilize their memories as a conduit to past experience. The reconciliation reached toward the end of the short story is not definitive and the faltering aspects and the ambiguous nature of the memories are continuously pronounced themes in the story.

The Pledge of Memory

I begin by looking at the narrator’s own narrative before it ramifies and branches off into the multitude of narratives found later in the text. The young narrator’s warm and nostalgic recollections of childhood in Baghdad inexorably tie memory to people, places, and objects. Through the narrative, the narrator takes us to his Errinerrungsräume[54] and memory places of the family mansion in the old Jewish neighborhood of al-Saʿdūn in Baghdad. The Errinerrungsräume, which are spatial metaphors, represent memory in a way that underpins the close connection between space and memory. While still in Baghdad, in the narrator’s childhood recollections, memory seems to make a pledge to recover what has been lost and to render the return to the sites and characters of his childhood memories without obstacles. In the beginning, a gleam of nostalgia covers the young narrator’s memory and he sees everything old as privileged and authentic:

 هذا القصر جمع في داخله، القديم و الحديث. لكن القديم كان أحلی دائيما. المدافيء الزيتية المثبتة في البناء و المكيفات الحديثة المنتشرة في الغرفة لم تكن تثير ذلك السحر الذي أثاره فينا المنقل البرنزي الأصفر عندما كان جوفه يتلألأ في الشتاء بوهج الجمر الأحمر.[55]

Adding the smells and tastes associated with his childhood to his mental images, the narrator recalls the aroma of dried orange peel burned in the fire, the taste of tea brewed over the steaming samovar, and the traditional bread baked in the tannūr. The tea brewed over the steaming samovar, he recalls, was always tastier than the tea brewed on the electric stove:

 الشاي المعد على بخار السماور، كان ألد من هذا الذي أددناه على الطباخ الكهربائي.[56]

Likewise, he recalls the bread from the tannūr, which the Muslim baker, ‘Um Ǧamīl, made for the children as better than the regular bread from the kitchen oven. With the introduction of ‘Um Ǧamīl, the narrative starts to branch off into other narratives. Here begins the mapping of Baghdad – not Baghdad on the scale of 1:1, but Baghdad in the dimensions of childhood. As the narrative ramifies, the narrator re-populates Baghdad and re-houses his family and friends in places where they once belonged. By mapping and charting Baghdad through family and place narratives, the narrator creates different cartographies and alternative representations of Jewish Baghdad – alternative to the ways in which Zionism traced Jewish history and identity. A lucid example of this is the grandmother’s room, one of the most obvious examples of an Erinnerungsraum where the room becomes a spatial metaphor for memory and where memory and space conflate:

على أن غرفة جدتي، كانت الوحيدة في هذا القصر التي مثلت القديم تمثيلا رائعا. في هذه الغرفة الصغيرة لم تكن ثمة أثاث، عدا سجادة قشانية  و كاروك خشبي كبير. هذا الكاروك أذكره جيدا.[57]

The literary representation of the narrator’s memory of his grandmother’s room transforms the room into a commemorative site, a lieu de mémoire to use Nora’s term. Simultaneously, the young narrator acts as an architect, working in the fabric of memory, capable of charting a literary geography that turns the private spaces of contested memories into sites of commemorative action. By going back to the anti-place, in Zionist narrative, the taboo and contested past – a prosperous childhood in Baghdad, the narrator facilitates a torrent of memories that all bypasses the Zionist dichotomy of homeland/exile. The finding of mental images heals what has been lost by the dislocation in Israel and restores shape to the Baghdad of his childhood. The big crib – al-kārūk, in the grandmother’s room – is of paramount importance to the narrator. It symbolizes his place of birth and therefore also the legitimacy of his claims to a childhood and a past in Baghdad. The crib also symbolizes the place from where the grandmother’s endless narration of tales emanate. In fact, the self-conscious emphasis on storytelling is apparent in the setting throughout the entire story and especially so in the grandmother’s room since it is where the storytelling session took place. The narrator vividly recalls these sessions:

  في ليالي الشتاء القارسة يجمعنا موقد الفحم و الحكايات. كنا نهيم بحكايات الديوات و السعالي والسحرة. [58]

With the words كان و ما كان – once upon a time – the grandmother embarks on another tale. By using the formulaic expression – once upon a time, the grandmother refers simultaneously to the tale she is about to narrate and to the ambiguity and fairytale-like texture of the Baghdad of the narrator’s memories. This topic gains gravity towards the end of the short story, but has already been foreshadowed by the more literal translation of the Arabic كان و ما كان – it was and it was not – a reference to the Baghdad of his childhood memories. The grandmother introduces the tradition of oral storytelling and folk literature and thereby expands the narrative further and into yet another dimension. In the topography made visible by the oral narrative, Jewish Baghdad becomes a multi-layered city. The outer layers are mostly concerned with the material, concrete, and architectural surfaces of the city and its landscape. On a deeper level, however, the grandmother’s tales encompass a mythical and folkloric Baghdad built of tales of wizards, ǧinns, and demons. This takes place on cold winter nights, in the grandmother’s room or in other dark corners of the family mansion where memories reside and thrive protected from the gaze of Zionist history. As a figure of authority and special status in the narrator’s memory, it is the grandmother who introduces Ṭanṭal. Ṭanṭal is a mischievous folkloric figure shared by Iraqi Jews, Muslims, and Christians alike.[59] The stories about Ṭanṭal have a profound impact on the young narrator and stays with him for the remainder of the story. Since the grandmother has not seen Ṭanṭal with her own eyes, the narrator relies on his uncle who has had numerous encounters with Ṭanṭal. The stories about Ṭanṭal narrated by the uncle first of all have the function of introducing the uncle as a character. Secondly, through these stories, the narrative introduces other stories, characters, and places in Baghdad such as the famous al-Khullānī mosque and the horseracing track. That the narrative, as it progresses, entails more and more people accentuates the collective aspects of the memory process with a direct bearing on the work of Halbwachs. By relying on group and community memories and by connecting his individual memories to these groups, such as his family, the young narrator is able to add texture and form to his memories. Although the narrator is no longer a member of the Iraqi-Jewish community he still feels connected to it and recalls the past as its member. The jovial and cordial relationship between Jews and Muslims is another recurrent theme in many of the stories narrated by the uncle. Characters such as the Muslim baker ‘Um Ǧamīl and the uncle’s several Muslim friends, who are all part of his stories, are counter-memories to the Zionist narrative in which the “Jews of Arab Lands” were forcefully, and even violently, suppressed by their Muslim neighbors.

Juxtaposed with his prosperous recollections of childhood in Baghdad, the narrator’s nightmarish description of his arrival in the camp in Israel in the early 1950s is a dreadful contrast. He recalls his first night in the camp as follows:

و أغفو في الليلة الأولى على أرض الخيمة. أتقلب من هول الكوابيس و أصحو على وخز الشوك، و تغمر بدني لسعات النمل الفارسي العملاق.[60]

His grandmother offers to tell him a story in order to comfort and console him, but the narrator refuses, no longer believing in stories about the ǧinns. Nevertheless, Ṭanṭal does not intend leaving the narrator alone and continuously shows up in Israel. It is the uncle who draws the narrator’s attention to the fact that Ṭanṭal left Baghdad with them and now lives on the outskirts of the camp:

  ـ ألا تعرف اذن ؟ طنطل انتقل من بغداد و جاء الی هنا. هنا قريبا منا. بمجرد أن تجتاز الجسر و أنت قادم من السوق. [61]

Because Ṭanṭal belongs to an Iraqi-Jewish past, which has emphatically been denied by the Zionist narrative in Israel, remembering and believing in Ṭanṭal becomes an act of resistance. Here, Ṭanṭal becomes a site of memory, guarded and commemorated by the Iraqi-Jewish inhabitants of the camp. When Ṭanṭal returns to the surface it is because what he represents, as a lieu de mémoire, is under threat. In other words, what keeps Ṭanṭal alive is a heartfelt will to remember. The inter-textual dialogue with figures and characters from the Iraqi oral tradition is an astute critique of Zionist hierarchies of knowledge as well as the dominant version of lieux de mémoire; historical memory over literary memory and literary memory over oral memory. The retention of these memories and de-canonized narratives rooted in the mythical and fantastical tradition of the oral is a vindication of the double de-canonized narrative rejected by Zionism. Double de-canonized first of all because it is a Mizrahi narrative occluded by Zionist history, and secondly because it is an oral narrative which Zionism considered to be a proof of primitive superstition. This attitude is personified in the official Israeli response to the protests in the camp demanding water and food. “One of those in power” writes to the protesters:

 ـ ليس الذنب ذنبنا … اننا نبذل كل ما بوسعنا، لكنكم جئتم من بلدان فقيرة متخلفة لا تختلف الحياة فيها عن الحياة في العصور المظلمة.[62]

This statement denies that anything good could ever have existed in the period of “exile” before the creation of Israel. Here I read the narrator’s revived belief in Ṭanṭal as an attempt to reverse the discontinuity and rupture caused by the exile and as a site to where counter-memories adjourn. Ṭanṭal, a creature made of memory and myth, flouts the Zionist notion of Arab-Jewish identity, links a past in Iraq with the present in Israel, East and West and insists on a horizontal and relational understanding of Identity. Thus, Ṭanṭal offers continuity and affinity where Zionism only saw only a futile life in exile.

However, while there might be continuity to be found in the character of Ṭanṭal, throughout the text, allusions and disclaimers that question the reliability of Ṭanṭal and the narrator’s memory alike emerge. These disclaimers and self-destructive devices undermine the promise made on behalf of memory in the beginning of the story. A much gloomier, surreal, and depopulated camp where the narrator searches for Ṭanṭal alone at night now supersedes the city, which was in the beginning structured by childhood memories and supported by collectives and sites of memory. On several occasions, the text underlines the similarities between Ṭanṭal and the nature of memory. This happens for the first time when the grandmother explains the nature of Ṭanṭal. According to her, Ṭanṭal, like memory, is a bag of mischief, a trickster who plays practical jokes, and someone not to be trusted:

 ـ يحلو لطنطل أن يمزح مع الناس. إنه لا يؤذي لكنه مغرم بعمل المقالب. و هو يبدو بأشكال شتى. خروف مرة وقطة مرة و دراهم مرة و خيط مرة.              مقالبه مثيرة للضحك.[63]

In a similar vein, the uncle foreshadows the tricky nature of memory when he describes how an encounter with Ṭanṭal is nothing but a dream that you remember:

ـ حلم … ألا تذكر الحلم ؟ بلى تتذكره … ولكن ماذا ترك لك في اليد ماذا قبضت ؟

 لم أفهم. بيد أن نفسي جاشت و طفحت بأفكار خصبة. و روحي انفعمت بخيالات فوارة ، هي الأخى من قبيل هذا الحلم الحقيقة أو الحقيقة  الحلم.[64]

What the uncle is in fact alluding to, and what the young narrator does not yet quite understand, is the parallel between memories of Ṭanṭal and memories of Jewish Baghdad. Both are “dreams that you remember,” and “images and illusions,” a mixture of reality and dream and not exact accounts of what took place. The nature of Ṭanṭal as someone who cannot be fully trusted materializes in the narrator’s oscillation between belief and disbelief in Ṭanṭal. While he knows that the stories might not be completely veracious, he cannot fully abandon Ṭanṭal since the stories and memories are all he has left of Baghdad:

 طنطل … أضحوكة لها ألف جانب …  حقيقة و وهم.[65]

The narrator knows that Ṭanṭal, and together with him his own childhood memories, are both a truth and a lie. Nonetheless, he has come to appreciate Ṭanṭal as all there is left, his only conduit and access to the city of his childhood memories. After his return to Israel in the 1970s, the narrator meets with his old friend at a café. Through their conversation, Ṭanṭal emerges as his only certainty:

ـ مهما فعلنا ، فطنطل هو اليقين ، وكل ما عداه هو الوهم.

ـ لكنك اعترفت بأنك لم تره.

 ـ ربما لا أراه رأى العين إلى الأبد … لكنني بدأت أحسه و أعايشه.[66]

Here the narrator’s appraisal of stories is even more pronounced as he declares Ṭanṭal to be the only certainty, the only way to gain knowledge of the past. Everything else is an illusion. He thus refutes the hierarchy of historical and literary knowledge and the claims to historicity made by the Zionist narrative. This should be seen as a praise of memory – literary as well as oral, for what it is, with its dearth and flaws and a refusal to forget. However, the nuisance of forgetfulness lurks around every corner. Forgetfulness further adds to the ambiguity of the narrator’s memories and can never fully be vanquished:

 النسيان. النسيان … من أبشع ما ابتلي به الإنسان هو النسيان.[67]

As the short story comes to an end, the narrator sits alone at the beach in Israel. He starts to swim towards the setting sun. When he tries to return to the shore, the sea begins to pull him in the other direction. Suddenly, a giant appears from the deep waters and offers to help him. However, as he stretches out his hand, the gap between him and the giant only widens. He then understands that the giant is pulling his leg. When the giant suddenly vanishes into thin air, the narrator realizes that the giant was in fact no other than Ṭanṭal:

 ـ إنه طنطل … رأيت طنطل … رأيت طنطل.

 و لم أكن أسمع مع هدير البحر غير ترجيع ضعيف للصدى.

ـ إنه طنطل … رأيت طنطل … رأيت طنطل … ل … ل.[68]

With the echo of the narrator resounding in the air above the sea, the text is turned into a memory space in which the echoes of the Iraqi-Jewish past continue to resonate. In this space no aspect of Jewish life in Baghdad, no matter how small, is too insignificant. The narrator enters the living sea of memory and attempts to reconcile himself with Ṭanṭal and the memories of a place that is no more. In this way it can be seen as a redemptive act that does not neglect to question its own foundation – the ubiquitous ambiguity of memory.

Surreal Unrecognizability and Spatial Familiarity:  Fī al-madīna al-suflā by Šimʿūn Ballāṣ

In Ballāṣ’ short story, Fī al-madīna al-suflā, the attempt to recall the city of Baghdad is personified in the nameless dramatized narrator. Originally, the short story was published together with three other stories also dealing with the narrator’s childhood and youth in Iraq as well as his adult life in Israel. In Fī al-madīna al-suflā, the narrator, who in the present time lives in Haifa with his wife Yāʿīl and their two children, ‘Ayyla and Yūsī, has arranged a meeting with Sāmī, an old childhood friend from Baghdad. As the narrator travels through the opaque, deserted, and flooded city to meet Sami at a café, it becomes clear that the surreal and nightmarish landscape is not the Haifa in which the narrator currently resides, but the Baghdad he left as a youth. Hence, in my reading of the short story, I see the adjective al-suflā as a reference, not to downtown Haifa, but to Arab-Jewish Baghdad. Accordingly, I take al-suflā to mean “lower” in the sense that it refers to Baghdad as a site of memory, the recess of the narrator’s memory repressed and displaced since his arrival in Israel. In a similar vein, Sāmī ought to be read, not as a real person, but as a subconsciously constructed character, a site of the narrator’s memory in its most abstract shape – a sort of storage room for aspects of his memory not able to surface freely in Israel. Thus, in my analysis, Sāmī becomes a prosthesis of the narrator’s memory, somewhat like the figure of Ṭanṭal, brought to Israel by a necessity and a will to remember. Here, more so than in Naqqāš’ short story, the opacity, dreamlike atmosphere, and the general sense of unreality of the flooded city accentuate the ambiguity of the narrator’s memories. The reliability of his memories is the constant theme in question in the novel. However, the narrative, albeit in short glimpses only, is also concerned with the mapping of once-familiar places and memory communities of the Iraqi-Jewish geo-cultural reality. One example of this is the sūq, which the narrator suddenly re-explores en route to his meeting with Sāmī. These glimpses of familiar places and faces are interwoven into the narrative, but the complete fracturing of time in the text makes it tantamount to impossible to figure out when one glimpse starts and when another begins. It is this tightrope walking between spatial familiarity and surreal unrecognizability as a result of a de-canonized narrative, which can only be attained through repressed memories that will form the backbone of my analysis.

Surreal Unrecognizability

In regard to the ambiguity of memory, it is not far-fetched to say that Fī al-madīna al-suflā picks up the thread where Ṭanṭal left. Even before the narrator enters the surreal and flooded city, which starts right outside his door, his contemplations of his familial situation and his relationship with his children foreground his alienated position in Israel as well as his struggle to combine his past in Baghdad with his present life in Haifa. In a flashback he recalls a conversation with his wife:

 ـ لم لا تتحدث معهما عن طفولتك ؟ طفولتي ؟ … حاولت ذلك مرة و ضحكا. بدا لهما أمري مضحكا. الأبناء يهتمون بطفولتهم، لا بطفولة ذويهم.                                   طفولتي عالم آخر ، عالم غريب ، و هما لا يفهمانه.[69]

Because they are only part of the present sphere, the narrator’s children cannot understand his past, and so the relationship between the narrator and his teenage children is generally awkward and staggered. However, the miscommunication goes deeper than that. ‘Ayyla and Yūsī were never part of the narrator’s “memory community” in Baghdad and therefore he cannot draw on their memories when trying to remember Baghdad nor can they evoke what seems to haunt their father. Because the narrator cannot connect his individual recollections of his past in Baghdad, he is unable to use Halbwachs’ words to “reconstruct a body of remembrances.”[70]  As a result of his inability to draw on the social frameworks of memory and thereby corroborate his own individual memories, his recollections, for the most part, remain surreal and dreamlike landscapes set in al-madīna al-suflā – the lower city. This manifests as the narrator travels through the deserted, flooded, and labyrinthine city. The narrator’s nightly journey through the lower city connotes the process of remembering the repressed and taboo memories de-canonized from the Zionist narrative of emigration to Israel. At one point, he describes the city with the following words:

 منظر رهيب. فينيسيا. فينيسيا تحتية . قاع المدينة. قاع الوجود.[71]

The surreal setting of narrow and flooded alleys resembling the canals of a subterranean and somber Venice enhances the feeling of walking inside the hidden recesses of the narrator’s mind or in a dream-cum-nightmare. En route to the café, the narrator looses his way several times. The city is unrecognizable to him and he hails a taxi hoping that the driver will be able to help him locate the café. The ride, however, only lasts few minutes; unable to continue because of the flooding, the driver refuses to go any further and the narrator is forced to get off prematurely:

 ـ لا يمكن التقدم أكثر. الشارع مغمور بالمياه.

 ـ وكيف أعبره؟

 ـ آسف. لا أريد المخاطرة.[72]

Before setting off for the café across the swamped and muddy alley, the narrator asks the driver how he will be able to return without a taxi:

 ـ و كيف أعود؟

ـ أتريد أن تعود ؟ يضحك ثانية.[73]

The unrecognizability of the city and of time and place culminates with the opaque duality in the rhetorical question posed by the driver; we do not know if he hints to the narrator’s memories as a place one does not wish to return to or a place one does not wish to return from.

Spatial Familiarity

Along the way, however, the narrator finds certain familiar places that break with the surreal settings. One example is the way in which the narrator has flashbacks that comprise memories of familiar streets, a restaurant he used to frequent, the old Jewish sūq, and his friends in the communist party and his first love. As the narrator gropes around for the café in a seemingly empty and muddy alley, a reflection in a puddle starts a long line of flashbacks that takes him to the old Jewish sūq in Baghdad.[74] In the reflection he sees the familiar butcher, the greengrocers, and their costumers – people who were once part of the Baghdadi Jewish community. He takes notice of a shop selling ceremonial candles for Jewish holidays, which strengthen his feeling of his old community. While it is definitely possible to speak of spatial familiarity, the narrator, nevertheless, continuously loses his way. Moreover, it never becomes quite clear whether his flashbacks actually materialize or if they are simply reflections in a puddle. Similarly, it is never truly obvious if he searches for Sāmī and the café in the past or in the present. Whenever the narrator loses his way he uses his memories and mental images of Sāmī to navigate. In many of these memories Sāmī is a poet sitting on the riverbank of the Tigris, the great river that runs through Baghdad:

 أريد أن أرافق سامي في الطرقات ، أن أجلس وإياه على ضفة النهر و أستمع لأشعاره الرقيقة.[75]

The incontrovertible and ubiquitous role played by the river Tigris in Iraqi-Jewish writing has been described in detail by Levy.[76] In Fī al-madīna al-suflā the bond initialized by the river between the river and the city seems to encompass also a bond between the river and the self:

 ـ سامي لن ينزح. ينظم أشعارا على ضفة النهر.[77]

ربما ما زال يكتب أشعارا! يتأمل النهر في الليالي المقمرة و ينظم القصائد لحوريات الموج.[78]

Sāmī and the river are – in most of the narrator’s memories – indistinguishable, suggesting an almost organic and ontological relationship between, on the one hand, Tigris and the narrator’s memory, and on the other, the river and Sāmī’s self. In the narrator’s memories, the city seems to be in a state of equilibrium, unproblematic and straightforward. The harmony and tranquility of the memories of Sāmī are in opposition to the narrator’s nightmarish journey through the city where the uncontrollable waters dominate and where nothing is recognizable. It is in situations such as these, when the opacity of the city seems impenetrable, that the narrator uses Sāmī as a signpost. However, Sāmī is not just a character who knows the city and is in symbiosis with it. In fact, Sāmī is a mental projection of the narrator’s own ego. The schizogenesis of the narrator’s self and the subconscious construction of Sāmī as a projection of his own former self should be seen as the direct result of the way in which Zionism categorically denied the existence of an Arab-Jewish polyphonic identity by dividing everything into the dichotomy of homeland/exile. Because this aspect of the narrator’s past is incompatible with the Zionist narrative of Arab-Jewish emigration, it has not been able to surface in Israel. However, not unlike Ṭanṭal, Sāmī has survived as a lieu de mémoire – a site of the narrator’s memory safeguarded by its location outside himself and outside Zionist history. When the narrator finally enters the café he finds himself: Sāmī is gone and an old man dressed exactly as he described himself in the beginning of the novel is about to leave:

 رجل كهل يرتدي بدلة خضراء و ربطة حمراء حول عنقه يجلس مكانه.[79]

Before vanishing into thin air the old man tells him that:

 ـ ما تبحث عنه غارق في الأعماق.[80]

What the old man equivocally alludes to is exemplified in the narrator’s conversation with his old friend, the bookseller Laṭīf, whom he meets whilst searching for Sāmī. Laṭīf tells him that Sāmī emigrated many years ago:

 ـ سامي نزح مع النازحين.[81]

Laṭīf tries to convince the narrator that although he is no longer Sāmī it does not necessarily mean that he never was Sāmī or that Sāmī is irreconcilable with his present self. When the narrator insists on Sāmī’s continuous presence in the city, Laṭīf philosophically states:

 ـ الحجر وحده لا يهجر … لا شئ ثابت في الوجود سوى الموت … الحياة تستمد بقاءها من الموت ، و الغابرون يستمدون بقاءهم من الموجود و الحي.[82]

Laṭīf urges him to live both in the past and in the present and to combine the two temporalities in a non-split identity. Likewise, he must combine the passing with the stabile to accept that Sāmī is still a part of him regardless of his rootedness in a geo-cultural space that no longer exists.

Discussion: The Limits of Memory

I don’t give much credence to stories from childhood, just as I don’t give much credence to stories from dreams. I especially don’t believe childhood stories from writers; those whose power lies in fiction are less credible in conveying things as they actually were.[83]

– Šimʿūn Ballāṣ

While I agree with Ballāṣ that fiction cannot always convey things as they actually were, I do not necessarily think that fiction ought to be seen as less credible. If fiction is the less, then what can be said to comprise the more? In the following, I will suggest that what we tend to see as more credible, namely historical narratives and non-fictional writing, share more than just the superficial characteristics with fictional writing. More specifically, I wish to construct a viable framework in which the literary representations of memory and history in Ṭanṭal and Fī al-madīna al-suflā can be thought of, not as less credible or less sophisticated, but as alternative and different historical narratives that might even add positively to the events they represent.

In my analysis of the two short stories I have not sought to bring to the surface interpretations that claim accuracy or authoritative precision in the representation of Iraqi-Jewish life in the past since such a project would be, at best, futile. Rather, I endeavored to reveal the underlying biases of the Zionist discourse. Therefore, the pressing task is not to excavate what really happened or what it was really like to be a Jew in Baghdad. Instead, we must try to understand what happens when literature mediates real events. What do the literary representations of memory actually show us? Like Halbwachs,[84] Ballāṣ and Naqqāš are fully aware that the past cannot be objectively reconstructed in the present. As a consequence, their texts should not be read as mediums through which the past can be smoothly articulated. Except for the pledge made by memory to restore lost meaning in the beginning of Ṭanṭal, Ballāṣ and Naqqāš do not view memory as a “discourse of the real.” In Fī al-madīna al-suflā the fact that Sāmī appears as a poet composing stanzas on the riverbank suggests a powerful connection between memory and imagination. Moreover, the opaque and surreal settings in Fī al-madīna al-suflā further enhance an atmosphere in which the reliability of the narrator’s memories is questionable. According to Berg, this blots out the boundaries between real and surreal, between fact and fiction, while drawing attention to the ambiguity of memory.[85] In Ṭanṭal the emphasis on storytelling, which runs as a parallel narrative throughout the story, causes a similar effect. The young narrator’s capricious relationship with his own memory, which is reflected in his oscillation between belief and disbelief in Ṭanṭal also establishes the recreation of the past and its subsequent retention as a murky endeavor. In both Fī al-madīna al-suflā and Ṭanṭal the “disclaimers” complicate memory by complicating memory itself.[86] However, are we to see traditional historical narratives and historical memory as more accurate in their dealings with times past? With his article, “The Value of Narrativity in the Representation of Reality,” Hayden White convincingly demonstrated how events do not, as a matter of fact, present themselves in the form of a coherent story with a fixed beginning, middle, and end. Therefore, the person who narrates any given sequence of events, be it historical or fictional, will automatically conduce shape, form, plot, and coherence to the events. Hence, according to White, “[the] value attached to narrativity in the representation of real events arises out of a desire to have real events display the coherence, integrity, fullness, and closure of an image of life that is and can only be imaginary.”[87] Historical narratives impose upon reality a form and coherency that only stories can claim to possess. Here, drawing on Lacan, White distinguishes between the “discourse of the real,” to which history belongs, and the “discourse of the imaginary” which is the realm of imaginative and fictional writing. In historical discourse, adds White, events are represented as if they are “speaking themselves” and “speaking to us.” Thus, they expose us to a stringent coherency that we ourselves cannot claim to possess.[88] White’s insights into the value of narrativity are invaluable because they allow us to view historical writing as a category, which, quite like fiction, resorts to narrativity when trying to convey real events. Like White, I do not think that this ought to be seen as a problem, but as one of the conditions of translating “knowing into “telling.”[89] Put differently, narrativity is not a distortion of reality, but simply our only possible way of representing reality. It is precisely this, I believe, Nora was referring to when he wrote about the blurring of the boundaries between historical and literary memory.[90] With the relationship between historical, literary memory, and writing equalized, or at least loosened up, we can start to discuss what literary memory adds instead of what it distorts, which, after all, seems to me a much more rewarding discussion. According to Lorna Martens, literary memories “are no longer [just] memories, but texts. They are rhetorically complex, aesthetically designed and crafted so as to produce certain effects on the reader.”[91] My interest lies with the memories as texts and, more specifically, with the memories as aesthetic texts. In the context of Arab-Jews, Alcalay asserts that, transformed into art, the experience of writers such as Ballāṣ and Naqqāš has the power to flout Zionist notions of Arab-Jewish life prior to the emigration.[92] Viewed in this way, the quality of Fī al-madīna al-suflā and Ṭanṭal is not located in a claim to historical accuracy or authenticity, but rather in the aesthetic richness that they produce. Hence, their subversive potential lies in their ability to narrate into existence, even if only aesthetically and imaginatively, their own memories and the door they leave ajar for other people to do the same. At least symbolically, according it Birgit Neumann, “fictions of memory are endowed with narrative power to empower the culturally marginalized and forgotten.”[93] The adroitness of fiction allows Ballāṣ and Naqqāš to furnish alternative historical narratives that are capable of questioning their own foundation and reliability, while at the same time creating good stories – stories that stick. The potential of such stories is engrained in their mapping of what was empathically not there according to the canonized version of history and their insistence on remembering – even when remembering is flawed. It is on these terms that the literary memories should be appreciated.


In this paper my goal has not been to idealize the status of Arab-Jews prior to the emigration. Rather, I have shown how the Zionist discourse, through its dichotomies of exile/homeland, canonized the history of the European Jews and subordinated the Arab-Jews to that history, thus deeming Jewish life prior to the resettlement in Palestine futile and provisional – an era that had to be negated. This, I conclude, removed the Arab-Jews from their Judeo-Islamic or Levantine context and necessarily occluded narratives that were peripheral to the Zionist master-narrative – a narrative that portrayed the Jewish community as a homogenous entity. Furthermore, through my analysis of the two short stories, I have shown that the Arab-Jews have to be reinstated in the geo-cultural space denied by Zionist history and that Mizrahi history, identity, and memory are best understood as relational and polyphonic concepts. In both Ṭanṭal and Fī al-madīna al-suflā Jewish Baghdad is re-written and mapped through the retention of the narrators’ memories. In Ṭanṭal, the young narrator achieves this by creating a wide-ranging network of narratives and sites of memory that all defy and evade the Zionist narrative while also reinstating members and friends of his family in the city. In Fī al-madīna al-suflā the attempt to re-write the city is made almost unattainable by the lack of familiar sites and memory communities to structure the narrator’s memory. Only by remembering Sāmī, a projection of his own ego, is the narrator of Ṭanṭal able to bring to the surface an Arab city that was obliterated and de-canonized by the Zionist narrative. On the one hand, Sāmī and Ṭanṭal are powerful sites of memory while on the other hand they accentuate the capricious and ambiguous nature of memory. However, in spite of the fact that the literary memories cannot show us what was really there, they still have potential. In conclusion, I suggest that what is important about the literary memories of Jewish Baghdad is not their claim to accuracy, but rather the possibilities they open up, through a narrative that creates an aesthetic surplus, of imagining alternatives to the dominant and canonized version of history.

A Note on Translation and Transliteration

I have used Brill’s Arabic transliteration system to transliterate Arabic words and names in this paper. Hebrew names and words, of which there are few, have not been transliterated. I have not transliterated words generally known in English, such as Baghdad, Haifa, and Iraq. I provide translations of the Arabic quotes in the footnotes. Most of the speech in Samīr Naqqāš short story Ṭanṭal is given in the Baghdadi-Jewish and Baghdadi-Muslim dialect, respectively, of the 1940s and 1950s. However, when I quote from the text in Arabic, I make use of the fusḥā version provided by the author in the footnotes. When referring to the short story Ṭanṭal I italicize the title. When not italicized, it refers to the character Ṭanṭal.


Pelle Valentin Olsen is an undergraduate student at the Carsten Niebuhr Department at the University of Copenhagen where he focuses on, among others things, Arabic literature, modern culture and the study of the visual. His main research interest is the concept memory and identity in Iraqi-Jewish literature. Pelle has also studied at the University of Damascus and the University of California, Los Angeles.


Primary Sources in Arabic

Ballāṣ, Šimʿūn. Fī al-Madīna al-Suflā. In Nuḏur al-ẖarīf. Köln: Manšūrat al-Ǧamal, 1997.

Naqqāš, Samīr. Ṭanṭal. In al-Qiṣṣa al-Qaṣīra ʿinda Yahūd alʿIrāq ed. Šmūʾīl Mūrīḥ, 255-283. Jerusalem: The Magnes Press, 1981.

Secondary Sources

Alcalay, Ammiel. After Jews and Arabs: Remaking Levantine Culture. Minneapolis: University of         Minnesota Press, 1993.

——–. Keys to the Garden: New Israeli Writing. San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1996.

Assmann, Aleida. Erinnerrungsräume: Formen und Wandlungen des kulturellen Gedächtnisses.            Munich: Beck, 1999.

Berg, Nancy. Exile from Exile: Israeli Writers from Iraq. New York: State University of New York       Press, 1996.

Booth, Wayne. “Distance and Point-of-View: An Essay in Classification.” In Essentials of the Theory   of Fiction, edited by Michael J. Hoffmann and Patrick D. Murphy, 170-189. Durham: Duke           University Press, 1996.

Cohen, R. Mark. “The Origins of Sephardic Jewry in the Medieval Arab World.” In Sephardic and       Mizrahi Jewry: From the Golden Age of Spain to Modern Times, edited by Zion Zohar, 23-39.    New York: New York University Press, 2005.

Deleuze, Gills and Guattari, Felix. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Translated      and edited by Brian Massumi. New York: Continuum, 1987.

Deshen, Shlomo. “Baghdad Jewry in Late Ottoman Times: The Emergence of Social Classes and of             Secularization.” In Jews among Muslims: Communities in the Precolonial Middle East, edited     by Shlomo Deshen and Walter P. Zenner, 187-196. London: Macmillan Press Ltd., 1996.

Halbwachs, Maurice. The Collective Memory. Translated by F.J. and V.Y. Ditter. London: Harper         Colophon Books, [1926] 1950.

——–. On Collective Memory. Translated and edited by Lewis A. Coser. Chicago: The University of    Chicago Press, 1992.

Lapidus, Ira, P. “Traditional Muslim Cities: Structure and Change.” In From Medina to Metropolis,       edited by L. Carl Brown, 54-68. Princeton, NJ: The Darwin Press, 1973.

Levy, Lital “Self and the City: Literary Representation of Jewish Baghdad.” Prooftexts 26 (2006): 163- 211.

——–. “Historicizing the Concept of Arab Jews in the Mashriq.” Jewish Quarterly Review 98 (2008): 452-469.

Martens, Lorna. The Promise of Memory: Childhood Recollection and Its Objects in Literary      Modernism. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2011.

Massad, Joseph. “Zionism’s Internal Others: Israel and the Oriental Jew.” Journal of Palestine Studies    25 (1996): 53-68.

Mustafa, Shakir. Contemporary Iraqi Fiction: An Anthology. New York: Syracuse University Press,      2008.

Neumann, Birgit. “The Literary Representation of Memory.” In Cultural Memory Studies: An   Interdisciplinary Handbook, edited by Astrid Erll and Ansgar Nünning, 333-343. New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2008.

Nora, Pierre. “Between Memory and History: Les Lieux de Mémoire.” Representations 26, Special       Issue: Memory and Counter-Memory (1989): 7-24.

Piterberg, Gabriel. The Returns of Zionism: Myths, Politics and Scholarship in Israel. London: Verso,    2008.

Shohat, Ella. “Zionism from the Perspective of its Jewish Victims.” Social Text 19 (1988): 1-35.

——–. “Rupture and Return: Zionist Discourse and the Study of Arab Jews.” In Taboo Memories,      Diasporic Voices, edited by Ella Shohat, 330-358. Durham: Duke University Press, 2006.

——–. “Taboo Memories, Diasporic Visions: Columbus, Palestine, and Arab Jews.” In Taboo Memories, Diasporic Voices, edited by Ella Shohat, 201-232. Durham: Duke University Press,        2006.

Silberstein, Laurence, J. The Postzionism Debates: Knowledge and Power in Israeli Culture. London:   Routledge, 1999.

Stillman, Norman. The Jews of Arab Lands in Modern Times. New York: The Jewish Publication          Society, 1991.

White, Hayden. “The Value of Narrativity in the Representation of Reality.” Critical Inquiry 7 (1980):    5-27.

[1]   The Hebrew word Mizrahi (pl. Mizrahim) refers to the Jews of the Arab world. In the Zionist discourse Mizrahi had negative connotations, but is today used by Arab-Jews in Israel to stress their difference from the Ashkenazim (sing. Ashkenazi), the Jews of European descent.

[2]   Samīr Naqqāš, Ṭanṭal in al-Qiṣṣa al-Qaṣīra ʿinda Yahūd alʿIrāq ed. Šmū’īl Mūrīḥ (Jerusalem: The Magnes Press, 1981), 255-283. In Arabic and Hebrew. The short story originally appeared in 1978 as part of the collection Anā wa ha’ūlā’ wa al-fiṣām (Jerusalem: Maṭba’at al-šarq).

[3]   Šimʿūn Ballāṣ, Fī al-madīna al-suflā. The story is part of the collection of short stories, Nuḏur al-kharīf (Köln:Manšūrat al-Ǧamal, 1997), 111-129.  Fī al-madīna al-suflā first appeared in 1974 in Hebrew with the title BaʿIrHaTaḥtit as part of a collection bearing the same name.

[4]   Samīr Naqqāš, qtd. in Nancy Berg, Exile from Exile: Israeli Writers from Iraq (New York: State University of New York Press, 1996), 3.

[5]   Lital Levy, “Self and the City: Literary Representations of Jewish Baghdad,” Prooftexts 26 (2006): 6.

[6]   Nancy Berg, Exile from Exile, 15-16.

[7]   Ibid., 16-17. For a more detailed study of the changing status and prosperity of the Jewish community in medieval times and Jews in medieval Baghdad see Mark R. Cohen, “The origins of Sephardic Jewry in the Medieval Arab World” in Sephardic & Mizrahi Jewry: From the golden age of Spain to modern times, ed. Zion Zohar (New York: New York University Press, 2005), 23-40 or Ira P. Lapidus, “Traditional Muslim Cities: Structure and Change” in From Medina to Metropolis, ed. L. Carl Brown (Princeton, NJ: The Darwin Press, 1973), 54-68.

[8]   For a more detailed description of Baghdad Jewry in Ottoman times see Shlomo Deshen et al. “Baghdad Jewry in Late Ottoman Times: The Emergence of Social Classes and of Secularization” in Jews among Muslims: Communities in the Precolonial Middle East, ed. Shlomo Deshen et al. (London: Macmillan Press Ltd., 1996), 187-196.

[9]   Berg, Exile from Exile, 18-19.

[10] Norman A. Stillman, The Jews of Arab Lands in Modern Times (New York: The Jewish Publication Society, 1991), 53.

[11] The exact number of people killed in the Farhūd is still disputed. While Stillman estimates the number at 179, Berg puts the number of Jews killed between 150 to 180. See Berg, Exile from Exile, 22.

[12] Stillman, The Jews of Arab Lands, 119-120.

[13] Berg, Exile from Exile, 22.

[14] Ammiel Alcalay, After Jews and Arabs: Remaking Levantine Culture (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993), 45-46.

[15] There were indeed many economic winnings combined with the declaration of the Law of Denaturalization and several factors can be said to have been decisive. For a detailed overview see Stillman, The Jews of Arab Lands, 163 and Berg, Exile from Exile, 26.

[16] Stillman, The Jews of Arab Lands, 151.

[17] Gabriel Piterberg, The Returns of Zionism: Myths, Politics and Scholarship in Israel (London: Verso, 2008), 94.

[18] Ibid., 93-94.

[19] Ibid., 96. Ella Shohat also likens Zionist notions of history to Hegel’s historic philosophy. See for example Ella Shohat, “Zionism from the Perspective of its Jewish Victims,” Social Text 19 (1988): 4-5.

[20] Piterberg, The Returns of Zionism, 94-95.

[21] David Ben Gurion, qtd. in Joseph Massad, “Zionism’s Internal Others: Israel and the Oriental Jews,” Journal of Palestine Studies 25 (1996): 57.

[22] David Ben Gurion, qtd. in Laurence J. Silberstein, The Postzionism Debates: Knowledge and Power in Israeli Culture (London: Routledge, 1999), 4-5.

[23] David Ben Gurion, qtd. in Piterberg, The Returns of Zionism, 97-98.

[24] Ella Shohat, “Taboo Memories, Disasporic Visions: Columbus, Palestine, and Arab-Jews,” in Taboo Memories: Diasporic Voices, ed. Ella Shohat (Durham: Duke University Press, 2006), 214.

[25] Arye Gelblum, qtd. in Joseph Massad, “Zionism’s Internal Others: Israel and the Oriental Jews,” Journal of Palestine Studies 25 (1996): 57-58.

[26] Shohat, “Zionism from the Perspective of its Jewish Victims,” 8.

[27] Šimʿūn Ballāṣ, qtd. in Alcalay,  After Jews and Arabs, 244.

[28] Silberstein, The Postzionism Debates, 167.

[29] Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. and ed. Brian Massumi (New York: Continuum, 1987), 13-22.

[30] Silberstein, The Postzionist Debates, 17-19.

[31] Ibid., 19.

[32] Ibid., 22-24.

[33] Alcalay, After Jews and Arabs, 24.

[34] Ibid., 27-30.

[35] Ella Shohat, “Rupture and Return: Zionist Discourse and the Study of Arab-Jews,” in Taboo Memories: Diasporic Voices, ed. Ella Shohat (Durham: Duke University Press, 2006), 335.

[36] Ella Shohat, “Taboo Memories, Disasporic Visions: Columbus, Palestine, and Arab-Jews,”  207.

[37] Ibid., 207-208.

[38] Shohat, “Rupture and Return,” 341.

[39] Silberstein, The Postzionism Debates, 175.

[40] Maurice Halbwachs, The Collective Memory, trans. F.J. and V.Y. Ditter (London: Harper Colophon Books, [1926] 1950), 84.

[41] Ibid., 22.

[42] Ibid., 128.

[43] Ibid., 157.

[44] Pierre Nora, “Between Memory and History: Les Lieux de Mémoire,” Representations 26, Special Issue: Memory and Counter-Memory (1989): 12.

[45] Ibid., 12.

[46] Ibid., 18-20.

[47] Ibid., 23.

[48] Ibid., 23.

[49] Ibid., 24.

[50] Samīr Naqqāš, qtd. in Berg, Exile from Exile, 107.

[51] Lital Levy, “Historicizing the Concept of Arab Jews in the Mashriq.” Jewish Quarterly Review 98 (2008): 455.

[52] Ibid., 456.

[53] I borrow this term from Wayne Booth, “Distance and Point-of-View: An Essay in Classification,” in Essentials of the Theory of Fiction, ed. Michael J. Hoffmann et. al. (Durham: Duke University Press, 1996), 176-178.

[54] I borrow this term from Aleida Assmann, Errinerrungsräume: Formen und Wandlungen des Kulturellen Gedächtnisses (Munich: Beck, 1999), 158.

[55] Samīr Naqqāš, Ṭanṭal, 256: The mansion contained the old and the new, but the old was always better. The built-in oil heaters and air conditioners in the rooms were less charming than the bronze brazier as it glowed with red coals during winter nights.

[56] Ibid., 256: The tea brewed on the steam of the samovar was tastier than the tea brewed on the electric stove.

[57] Ibid., 256: Nothing in the mansion represented the old like my grandmother’s room. In this small room there was just an old Kashan carpet and a big wooden crib. I especially recall the crib.

[58] Ibid., 258: The coal brazier and the stories united us during the cold winter nights. We had a ravenous appetite for the stories about wizards, male ǧinns, and female demons.

[59] Shakir Mustafa, Contemporary Iraqi Fiction: An Anthology (New York: Syracuse University Press, 2008), 115.

[60] Samīr Naqqāš, Ṭanṭal, 269: The first night I slept on the tent’s floor. I was tossing and turning and constantly stung by nightmares and thorns. Big red Persian ants feasted on my body.

[61] Ibid., 274: “You don’t know then? Ṭanṭal has moved from Baghdad and is now very close to us, just after the bridge when you come from the market.”

[62] Ibid., 271: “It’s not our fault. We are trying the best we can. The problem is that you came from poor and backward countries still stuck in the middle ages.”

[63] Ibid., 259: “Ṭanṭal likes to joke with people. He doesn’t really do any harm, but he likes practical jokes. He appears in many different forms, sometimes a cat or a lamb, sometimes a piece of thread. His jokes are amusing.”

[64] Ibid., 265: “A dream … don’t you remember the dream? Of course you remember it … but what does it leave you with, what do you seize with your hand?” I did not understand then and my mind remained obsessed by a fountain of images and illusions that blended reality and dream.

[65] Ibid., 269:  Ṭanṭal …  A hoax with a thousand shapes … a truth and a lie.

[66] Ibid., 280: “No matter what we do, Ṭanṭal is our only certainty. Everything else is an illusion.” “But you confess that you have never seen him.” “Perhaps I’ll never see him, but I’ve started to feel him. He has become part of me”

[67] Ibid., 266: Forgetfulness. The nastiest of all human afflictions – forgetfulness.

[68] Ibid., 283: “It’s Ṭanṭal … I saw  Ṭanṭal … I saw  Ṭanṭal.” Except for the roar of the sea I only heart the weak echo of: “It’s Ṭanṭal … I saw Ṭanṭal …. ṭal … al … l.”

[69] Ballāṣ, Fī al-madīna al-suflā, 113: “why don’t you speak to them about your childhood?” “My Childhood? I tried that once, and they laughed. My situation seemed funny to them. The children care about their own childhood, not the childhood of their relatives. My childhood is another world, a strange world, and they don’t understand it.”

[70] Halbwachs, The Collective Memory, 22.

[71] Ballāṣ, Fī al-madīna al-suflā, 117: A dreadful scenery. Venice – a subterranean Venice. The bottom of the city. The    bottom of existence.

[72] Ibid., 116: “I cannot proceed any further, the street is flooded.” “And how am I supposed to cross it then?” “Sorry I don’t want to risk anything.”

[73] Ibid., 116: “And how will I get back?” He laughs, “do you want to get back?”

[74] I cannot be sure of this, but find it likely that he is here referring to the Sūq al-Ḥannūnī, the old Jewish sūq in Baghdad.

[75] Ibid., 118: I want to accompany Sāmī along the roads, to sit with him on the riverbank and listen to his delicate poetry.

[76] Levy, “Self and the City,” 177-178. In her reading of Iraqi-Jewish novels, autobiographies, and memoirs Levy notes how the river appears as a vital as well as a potentially hazardous character and metonym for the city.

[77] Ibid., 118: “Sāmī will never emigrate. He is composing poetry on the river bank.”

[78] Ibid., 112: Maybe he still writes poetry! He is contemplating the river on the moonlit nights and composes stanzas to the nymphs of the wave.

[79] Ibid., 128: An old man wearing a green suit and a red tie sits in his place.

[80] Ibid., 128: “what you are searching is lost in the depths.”

[81] Ibid., 122: “ Sāmī emigrated with the other emigrants.”

[82] Ibid., 122: “Only a stone doesn’t leave its place … there is nothing stable in life except death … life borrows its constancy from death and those who have passed away borrow their constancy from the existing and the living.”

[83] Šimʿūn Ballāṣ, qtd, in Berg, Exile from Exile, 129.

[84]  Maurice Halbwachs, On Collective Memory, trans. and ed. Lewis A. Coser (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1992), 46-51.

[85] Berg, Exile from Exile, 136-137.

[86] On several occasions, Ballāṣ has himself drawn attention to the topic of forgetfulness. For a more detailed account see “At Home in Exile: An Interview with Shimun Ballas by Ammiel Alcalay” in Ammiel Alcalay, Keys to the Garden: New Israeli Writing (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1996), 62-69. Likewise, in Ṭanṭal, Naqqāš describes forgetfulness as “the nastiest of all human afflictions,” yet something, which is fundamental to the human condition. Naqqāš, Ṭanṭal, 266.

[87] Hayden White, “The Value of Narrativity in the Representation of Reality,” Critical Inquiry 7 (1980): 27.

[88] Ibid., 23-24.

[89] Ibid., 5.

[90] Nora, Between Memory and History, 24.

[91] Lorna Martens, introduction to The Promise of Memory: Childhood Recollections and Its Objects in Literary Modernism by Lorna Martens (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2011), VIII.

[92] Alcalay, After Jews and Arabs, 11.

[93] Birgit Neumann, “The Literary Representation of Memory” in Cultural Memory Studies: An Interdisciplinary Handbook, ed. Astrid Erll and Ansgar Nünning (New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2008), 341-342.

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