May 21, 2022

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Farhud is backdrop for new novel

The lives of two Jewish families, one from Hungary and the other from Iraq,  converge unexpectedly in London in the shadow of the Farhud pogrom in Iraq and the Nazi Holocaust. Interview by Keren David with the author of Nine love letters, Gerald Jacobs, in the Jewish Chronicle:

It is a slightly worrying thing, the task of reading a colleagues book and interviewing him about it, especially as in this case the colleague is Gerald Jacobs, literary editor of this newspaper since the late 1980s, who, as a result, knows as much about books, and Jewish books in particular,  as many a professor of literature.

Gerald’s latest book, out this week, is his first novel, and at first glance from the title — Nine Love Letters — and the cover, which features a girl in a 1940s style dress, sitting reading a letter, I wondered if he’d written a conventional romance. But the book, and the letters around which it is structured, offer a far wider exploration of love, with familial love as central to the story as the ardent missives exchanged between lovers.

The range of the novel is epic, taking in generations of Jewish families in Iraq and Hungary and their descendants in England, and he does not shy away from the horrors of the concentration camps, and the Farhud, Baghdad’s version of a pogrom, which brutally ended generations of Iraqi Jewish life in 1941. I was gripped by the story, and — even though our interview was imminent — found myself reading slowly, because I didn’t want the book to end.

The writing, too, stands out. It reminded me of a memoir or, at times, reportage, with its rush of anecdotes, telling the stories of family, friends and neighbours in a few packed pages, moving back and forward in time, with an omniscient third-person narrator. There was something about it that felt different from other novels covering similar ground.

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