From Baghdad to Brooklyn: Growing Up in a Jewish-Arabic Family in Midcentury America

Overview

“[Marshall] understands that the neighborhoods and cities that no longer exist can be conjured by memory and reanimated by art.”—San Francisco Chronicle

“Born in Brooklyn of Arabic/Jewish heritage, Marshall may represent the keynote, most critical multicultural mixture of our time.”—Naomi Shihab Nye, Hungry Mind Review

Inspired by the posthumous discovery of letters written by his father but never mailed, Jack Marshall’s memoir is both a moving...

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Overview

“[Marshall] understands that the neighborhoods and cities that no longer exist can be conjured by memory and reanimated by art.”—San Francisco Chronicle

“Born in Brooklyn of Arabic/Jewish heritage, Marshall may represent the keynote, most critical multicultural mixture of our time.”—Naomi Shihab Nye, Hungry Mind Review

Inspired by the posthumous discovery of letters written by his father but never mailed, Jack Marshall’s memoir is both a moving story of a writer’s artistic coming-of-age and a lush, lyrical recollection of a childhood spent in Brooklyn’s Arabic-speaking Jewish community. Born in 1936 to an Iraqi father and Syrian mother who had immigrated to the United States, Marshall grew up in the hardworking Sephardic community—enveloped in an extended family that spoke little English, no Yiddish, and whose way of life owed more to their Middle Eastern homelands than to European Jewish traditions.

As the sights, sounds, and tastes of midcentury New York leap off the page, Marshall beautifully evokes the magic of youth and discovery. From playing “running bases” in the Brooklyn streets to making egg creams at Coney Island, from his mother’s rich kibbeh and baklava to the vast world revealed in the books of the New York Public Library, from the pleasures of music to the mysteries contained under a microscope, Marshall’s story is as enduring as it is original. And before he sets sail for Africa as a seaman on a Norwegian freighter, Marshall has, through his negotiation of language, culture, family strife, and issues of education, faith, and politics, shined a light upon the possibilities of our collective future.

A critically acclaimed poet, Jack Marshall has received a PEN Center USA West Award, two Bay Area Book Reviewers awards, and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Accomplished and expressive language permeates this coming-of-age memoir. Born in 1936, the author (Gorgeous Chaos), an award-winning poet, was the son of an Iraqi father and a Syrian mother, and raised in an Arabic-speaking, Sephardic household in Brooklyn. His memories, sparked by a trove of unsent letters written by his father, capture the tensions between his parents (whose marriage had been arranged), and evokes a childhood, shared with younger brother, Nat, and a sister, Renee, that was marked by his mother's fearfulness of the world outside (she never learned English). Marshall provides mouth-watering descriptions of Arabic meals and complex portraits of his extended family. Writing with insight and humor, he provides sharp visual sketches of baseball summers, trips to Coney Island and his unrequited love for a Sicilian classmate in elementary school. At the heart of this story is Marshall's disenchantment with religion, the growing appeal of science and his commitment to poetry, which temporarily estranged him from his background. When he planned to marry a Christian, Renee, on behalf of the family, offered his fianc e $10,000 to call off the wedding. Decades later, a trip Marshall took with Renee (now terminally ill with cancer) and Nat is lovingly recounted. 8 b&w photos not seen by PW. (Oct.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A predictable memoir about an immigrant son's struggle to find himself. Poet Marshall's parents were Sephardic Jews-Dad from Baghdad, Mom from Aleppo-who immigrated to America and entered into an ill-advised marriage in New York. Marshall's home life was different from those of other Jewish kids in Brooklyn: His parents, for instance, whether swearing or offering praise, denoted God not by the Hebrew "Ha-Shem" or "Eloheem," but by the Arabic "Allah." As he moved into adolescence, Marshall had an increasingly difficult time reconciling science and literature with traditional Jewish teaching. As a last ditch effort to shore up faith, he enrolled, on a generous scholarship, in the rabbinical program at Yeshiva University-but he didn't last long. The siren song of the poets snagged him instead, and he took refuge in the main reading room of the main branch of the New York Public Library, reading "thirsty as a castaway at a free tap," keeping company with the words of Hart Crane and Dylan Thomas. The end of this memoir finds Marshall setting sail, figuratively and literally: Broke but determined to see the world, he found work on the SS Ferngrove and . . . off he went. The text is littered with too-cute lines (e.g., "any Orthodox rabbi worth his kosher Crystal salt"). Marshall has a unique heritage, but not enough of this story feels original or fresh. The word "Baghdad" in the title may prompt some readers to pull this from the shelves, but they will likely be disappointed.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781566891745
  • Publisher: Coffee House Press
  • Publication date: 10/1/2005
  • Pages: 260
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Born in 1936 to Jewish parents who emigrated from Iraq and Syria, Jack Marshall grew up in New York and lives in California. He is the author of the memoir From Baghdad to Brooklyn and several poetry collections that have received the PEN Center USA Award, two Northern California Book Awards, and a nomination from the National Book Critics Circle.

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