"Naqqash writes with intense and whirling vividness about what Joyce called the 'ruin of all space': the sensory components of reality, the stable sense of the body, and all phenomenological certainties are overturned, warping the very fabric of mental and social coherence."—Tablet
"A rare work of fiction in terms of language, history,and contemporary politics of pluralistic cultures.
Written in Arabic by a speaker of Hebrew, among other languages, chronicling a period of utmost significance for the region, and demonstrating the will to coexist under harsh circumstances, the work is a valuable source of knowledge and entertainment."—Shakir Mustafa, editor of Contemporary Iraqi Fiction
"As the obliteration of deeply rooted local and ancient cultures proceeds apace, the unique work of the late Iraqi novelist Samir Naqqash becomes ever more important....This first extended English translation continues the process of fully recognizing the depth and profundity of Naqqash’s human vision and his stature as a major 20th c. writer."—Ammiel Alcalay, author of After Jews & Arabs: Remaking Levantine Culture
"In his translation of Tenants and Cobwebs, Masliyah does an excellent job of keeping the feeling of the original alive for his readers."—Sephardic Horizons
Samir Naqqash’s stirring novel Tenants and Cobwebs nostalgically commemorates the lost culture of an ancient Iraqi Jewish minority living amidst a majority Muslim population in 1940s Baghdad. The plot unfolds during a time of great turmoil: the rise of Iraqi nationalism and anti-Jewish sentiment fueled by Nazi propaganda; the Farûd, a bloody pogrom carried out against Jewish residents of Baghdad in 1941; and the founding of Israel in 1948. These pivotal events profoundly affected Muslim-Jewish relationships, forever changing the nature of the Jewish experience in Iraq and eventually leading to a mass exodus of Iraqi Jews to Israel in 1951.
Tenants and Cobwebs deftly narrates the lives of Jewish characters who refuse to leave Baghdad despite these tumultuous times as well as those who are compelled to leave but nonetheless cling to the life they know. While the Jewish residents appear to live peacefully and harmoniously in the same Baghdad apartment complex as their Muslim neighbors, Naqqash gives voice to their conflicting thoughts and feelings, revealing the deepening tensions between the two groups. His innovative use of Baghdadi Jewish and Muslim dialects captures the complex and nuanced emotions of his characters. Masliyah’s skillful translation gives English-language readers access to one of the most imaginative and ambitious Middle Eastern authors of the twentieth century.
Samir Naqqash (1938–2004) was a Jewish Iraqi novelist, short-story writer, and playwright who emigrated from Iraq at the age of thirteen. Naqqash wrote in Arabic despite living most of his life in Israel. In 2004, he received the Israeli Prime Ministerial Award for Arabic Fiction.
Sadok Masliyah was assistant professor of Arabic and Hebrew at several American universities and the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California. He has published studies on Arabic literature, Iraqi folklore, and spoken dialects, including his most recent book, The Formation of Quadrilateral Verbs in Iraqi Dialects.