'Enthralling and moving. It is magical.' Claudia Roden
In the 1940s a third of Baghdad’s population was Jewish. Within a decade nearly all 150,000 had been expelled, killed or had escaped. This graphic memoir of a lost homeland is a wordless narrative by an author homesick for a home she has never visited.
Transported by the power of music to her ancestral home in the old Jewish quarter of Baghdad, the author encounters its ghost-like inhabitants who are revealed as long-gone family members. As she explores the city, journeying through their memories and her imagination, she at first sees successful integration, and cultural and social cohesion. Then the mood turns darker with the fading of this ancient community’s fortunes.
This beautiful wordless narrative is illuminated by the words and portraits of her family, a brief history of Baghdadi Jews and of the making of this work. Says Isaacs: ‘The Finns have a word, kaukokaipuu, which means a feeling of homesickness for a place you’ve never been to. I’ve been living in two places all my life; the England I was born in, and the lost world of my Iraqi-Jewish family’s roots.’
Carol Isaacs will be touring The Wolf of Baghdad throughout 2019-2020 at various venues and festivals around England. For more information please check her blog.
An excerpt of the book was longlisted for the 2018 Myriad First Graphic Novel Competition.
This isn't a book that you read. It's one where you actually fall inside the story. It's wonderful.
The Wolf of Baghdad is an amazing achievement, a brilliantly and appropriately mute navigation through the dreamscape of recorded and recovered memory, both haunting and devastatingly haunted.
A brilliant and truly transporting piece of work.
JW3 on performances of The Wolf of Baghdad
A tour de force—the moving story of the destruction of a community seen through the eyes of an Iraqi Jew—and a wolf. The most exciting animated audio-visual experience since Persepolis.
Harif on performances of The Wolf of Baghdad
Moving, powerful and beautifully drawn. The long-gone, silent ghosts in Carol Isaacs’ The Wolf of Bagdad tell their story more eloquently and vividly than if they were still alive.
11 December 2019
ESOPOTAMIA, the land “between two rivers” of the Tigris and the Euphrates which is modern-day Iraq, is the “lost homeland” of this book’s title and it’s where the entire family of its author Carol Isaacs lived, prospered and belonged.
It was there that in 597 BC Babylonian emperor Nebuchadnezzar took 40,000 Jews into exiled captivity, a forced exodus that led many to stay on after Cyrus the Great came to power 60 years later and allowed them to return to Judea.
The ensuing history of Iraqi Jews is both glorious and immeasurably tragic particularly, as Isaacs chronicles, in the 20th century.
Choosing the life-saving emigration encouraged by Israel after WWII, their numbers were reduced from around 150,000 to a mere half a dozen today.
Known and admired for their enterprise, education, culture and as trusted neighbours, they fell victim to consecutive waves of violent and reactionary nationalism.
The anti-semitism propagated by nazi Germany incited wanton murder, looting and destruction, not unlike the 1930s Kristallnacht pogroms in Germany itself.
Racism and xenophobia grew in intensity from the 1950s onwards but many Jews fought back, often in the ranks of the Communist Party.
Isaacs, who has never visited Iraq, lives in a state of multi-location in her graphic narrative. Her daily life is in London but simultaneously she is often spiritually transported to Baghdad to wander the streets or visit old familial places of residence and “look in” on the trials and tribulations of its inhabitants.
Wearing a chador, she moves like a ghost, watched over by the wolf of the book’s title. Endowed with mythical protective powers by the locals, a wolf-tooth amulet is, by tradition, indispensable and Isaacs’s spectre wears it as brooch to fend off evil, human or otherwise.
Movingly, the intriguing graphic narrative of her wanderings is interspersed with minute, single-sentence reflections from family members and others charting their appalling demise in a society deliberately and systematically poisoned with racial enmity.
Timelines signpost the heart-breaking story but perhaps redemption is possible. Isaacs’s internet exchanges with Iraqis of good-will have increased recently and she has been invited to visit the Iraq embassy in London.
Tellingly, in a poll run last year by Al-Khuwwa al — one of the most popular Facebook pages in Iraq — about the possibility of Jews returning, 77 per cent of more than 62,000 respondents were in favour.
Time will tell.
The Wolf of Baghdad is published by Myriad Editions, £16.99.