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The Strangers We Became
Lessons in Exile from One of Iraq's Last Jews
Cynthia Kaplan Shamash



HBI Series on Jewish Women

Brandeis
2015 • 240 pp. 5 1/2 x 9"
Memoir / Immigration / Jewish History


$27.95 Hardcover, 978-1-61168-805-4

$22.99 Ebook, 978-1-61168-806-1

Check your ebook retailer or local library for ebook availability.



“Shamash’s writing beautifully communicates the confusion, imagination, and resilience that she experienced as a child from the trauma, displacement, and possibility of immigration, all caused... [continued in Reviews below]”—Jewish Book World

A smart, funny, and lyrical memoir of an Iraqi Jewish girl’s experiences in five countries before settling in the United States

This riveting and utterly unique memoir chronicles the coming of age of Cynthia Shamash, an Iraqi Jew born in Baghdad in 1963. When she was eight, her family tried to escape Iraq over the Iranian border, but they were captured and jailed for five weeks. Upon release, they were returned to their home in Baghdad, where most of their belongings had been confiscated and the door of their home sealed with wax. They moved in with friends and applied for passports to spend a ten-day vacation in Istanbul, although they never intended to return.

From Turkey, the family fled to Tel Aviv and then to Amsterdam, where Cynthia’s father soon died of a heart attack. At the age of twelve, Sanuti (as her mother called her) was sent to London for schooling, where she lived in an Orthodox Jewish enclave with the chief rabbi and his family. At the end of the school year, she returned to Holland to navigate her teen years in a culture that was much more sexually liberal than the one she had been born into, or indeed the one she was experiencing among Orthodox Jews in London. Shortly after finishing her schooling as a dentist, Cynthia moved to the United States in an attempt to start over.

This vivid, beautiful, and very funny memoir will appeal to readers intrigued by spirituality, tolerance, the personal ramifications of statelessness and exile, the clashes of cultures, and the future of Iraq and its Jews.

Click here for TABLE OF CONTENTS

Reviews / Endorsements

"Shamash’s writing beautifully communicates the confusion, imagination, and resilience that she experienced as a child from the trauma, displacement, and possibility of immigration, all caused by anti-Semitism. She weaves her story so well that the reader truly feels what the author has lived. It is only at the end of her tale that one must reckon with the impacts of poverty and instability on Shamash and her family and acknowledge the courage they all have shown in building new lives in unfamiliar places. The story moves quickly, so that there is much for a reader to absorb—perhaps too much—but then Shamash holds the events and the emotion so expertly in sync that the power of the story is enhanced rather than lessened by the fast pace.” —Jewish Book World

“This is a vivid, witty, exhilarating and at times disarmingly frank, read.” —Jerusalem Post

“A valuable addition to the literature on the contemporary Iraqi Jewish experience as well as a moving personal reflection on the challenges of migration and cultural transitions.”

Contemporary Jewry

“Cynthia Kaplan Shamash has produced a deeply moving memoir of exile and longing centered around her Iraqi Jewish family as they navigate an increasingly perilous world marked by cruel, often deadly anti-Jewish attacks. Wondrous and poetic, but also searing and terrifying, this is a stirring and important contribution to the literature exploring what became of the Jews of Arab lands.”—Lucette Lagnado, author of The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit

“Powerful and moving, Shamash’s book is a fascinating odyssey, as well as a treasure trove for anthropologists in its riveting testimony of the last days of Jewish society in Iraq and its re-planting in the strange soil of the West. Communicated with surprising humor and jest, her descriptions of the puzzlement and confusion she felt, but also her defiance, are a masterpiece.”—Amatzia Baram, director of the Center for Iraq Studies, University of Haifa

Awards/Recognition:

Jewish Book Council's Best of 2015 Commendation


Considered an expert on the Iraqi-Jewish archive and diaspora, CYNTHIA KAPLAN SHAMASH has spoken widely about her experiences and published an op-ed in the New York Times. She was elected to the board of the World Organization of Jews from Iraq in 2011 and currently lives in New York City, where she has her own dentistry practice and is married with five children.



Sun, 19 Mar 2017 19:56:22 -0500