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Life after Baghdad

Memoirs of an Arab-Jew in Israel, 1950–2000

Sasson Somekh served as professor of Arabic literature at Tel Aviv University for many years, and at other centres of learning in Europe and the US. He has published many books, including a ground-breaking monograph about Nobel Prize-winning Egyptian novelist Naguib Mahfouz (Leiden, 1973). During the 1990s he served as director of the Israeli Academic Center in Cairo.

Life after Baghdad is a follow-on volume to the author’s highly successful Baghdad, Yesterday (Ibis Editions, Jerusalem, 2007), which told of Sasson Somekh’s boyhood in the city of his birth and the circumstances under which his family decided to forsake Iraq, a land in which they were rooted for centuries, and move to Israel. It was highly acclaimed in the TLS and London Review of Books, and in the Israeli Ha’aretz, “It is hard to overstate the beauty, originality, lucidity, gentleness, wisdom and importance of Baghdad, Yesterday.”

The present volume continues the story where the 2007 volume ends. Somekh, a noted student of modern Arabic culture, relates his life as a university professor and writer, taking the reader to Oxford, Princeton and Cairo, and introducing scholars and writers he befriended: S.D. Goitein, Mustafa Badawi and Haim Blanc, among others. He devotes a major section to Naguib Mahfouz (1911–2006) with whom he maintained a close comradeship for three decades, and from whom he received the following letter: “Both our peoples knew extraordinary partnership for many years in ancient times, during the Middle Ages, and in the modern era, with quarrels being few and far between. Unfortunately, we have documented the disputes a hundred times more than the periods of friendship and cooperation …”

Paperback ISBN: 978-1-84519-502-1
Paperback Price: £16.99 / $22.50
Release Date: November 2011
Page Extent / Format: 170 pp. / 229 x 152 mm
Illustrated: Yes



Chapter 1: The Transit Camp

Chapter 2: Scouting About the Land

Chapter 3: The Tigris and the Jordan

Chapter 4: “The earth shall rise on new foundations”

Chapter 5: Lovers of Arabic in the First Hebrew City

Chapter 6: Days with Alexander Penn

Chapter 7: An Interrupted Dialogue

Chapter 8: Father

Chapter 9: Higher Learning in Lower Tel Aviv

Chapter 10: Roman à clef: Three Years at the Academy of the Hebrew Language

Chapter 11: A Family of My Own

Chapter 12: Mustafa

Chapter 13: Translating Literature

Chapter 14: Haim Blanc

Chapter 15: Saturday Evenings at the Goiteins

Chapter 16: Students and Colleagues

Chapter 17: 1988—Two Experiences

Chapter 18: A Modern Egyptian Sinbad

Chapter 19: Cairo—The Four Masters

Chapter 20: Cairo—End of the Century

Chapter 21: An Encounter with Taha Hussein’s Granddaughter

Chapter 22: Naguib Mahfouz—Thirty Years of Friendship

Sasson Somekh is Israel’s literary expert on modern Arabic literature and a fine writer in his own right. Born in Baghdad and educated in Oxford, he became a prominent literary figure and left-wing intellectual circles in Tel Aviv. Baghdad, Yesterday (2007) recorded the fascinating story of a precocious Jewish teenager living in an Arab country before and just after the establishment of the State of Israel. Life after Baghdad is the second volume of his autobiography covering half a century of his illustrious career in Israel. But Sasson Somekh is much more than an academic expert on the literature of Israel’s neighbors. He is a living proof of the possibility of a civilized dialogue and cultural cooperation between Jews and Arabs.
Professor Avi Shlaim, St. Antony’s College, Oxford, author of The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World

Reviewed in Forward

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