The Wolf Of Baghdad

A Memoir Of A Lost Homeland

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.

As a cartoonist and illustrator I will tell their story in a graphic memoir, The Wolf Of Baghdad, journeying through their memories and my imagination. And as a musician I will source and learn the music they would have listened to. I will then present an audio-visual event where a slideshow of the memoir will accompany a group of musicians (including me) performing the repertoire.

This regularly updated blog will detail the experience of creating the graphic memoir and learning the music. The first part of the project will be about the research and development of it and at the end of this year there will be a test performance in London featuring excerpts from the work in progress. With further funding I hope to complete the memoir and record a cd of the music next year.

THE_SURREAL_McCOY_Wolf_1
The Wolf Of Baghdad by The Surreal McCoy

Background

1928 Hay
Hay family, Baghdad 1928

My family came from Baghdad and after they were driven out of their home my parents settled in London where I was born. I grew up in two worlds – the one inside the house and the one outside. Though Arabic was spoken indoors, my parents wanted more than anything to be British. Western classical music was all we heard in our house. I never heard anything Middle Eastern. Only recently have I begun to learn about Maqqam (the system of composition and melodic modes used in traditional Arabic music) and realise that the greatest composers of popular music in the Arab world (considered so even today) were two Iraqi-Jewish brothers Daud and Saleh Al Kuwaiti, who played violin and oud, respectively, in the Iraqi Radio Orchestra (see photo below).

al_kuwaiti
Iraqi Radio Orchestra, 1930’s

The graphic memoir that I will draw will be wordless, based on the myth of the wolf in Iraqi-Jewish folklore I found in the book by David Sassoon, ‘A History Of The Jews In Baghdad’, published in 1917.

In the chapter on superstitions he writes –

Dheeb. Wolf. In a house where children die in infancy, a wolf is kept in order to keep away demons. The belief is current among Baghdadi Jews that the wolf keeps away spirits and demons. In the dark they exclaim their fear of demons: “Dheeb Hader” i.e. the wolf is present. If the wolf scratches the ground they believe he is pulling out and consuming the fingers of the approaching demons.” (pp 193)

(Please click the link at the bottom of the page if you’d like to follow my progress. It would be great to hear your comments, questions and suggestions too!)

 

36 thoughts on “The Wolf Of Baghdad

    1. Carol, I read the Wolf of Baghdad last night, the best book I have read in a long long time. It brought back many memories of Baghdad to me, i lived in Baghdad, the Ahdimyia , Ragiba Katoon,area. In the 1970’s leaving in the June 1980., My husband an Iraqi Muslim Arab. Your book told me so much on the plight of Iraqi Jews, and also brought back many memories as well , I totally empathise on that fear factor you spoke about. I loved the use of ghosts, as my Iraqi family have always been my ghosts even though many have survived through the horror s of the last 40 years plus of Sanctions and war and continued conflict, Ghosts that I never ever want to be buried.i hope that should you ever come to Manchester to either talk about your book or perform my son and I will get a chance to get to see you. Thank you and we’ll done for producing sui asch a wonderful book that I for one will hope to pass somewhere day to my grandchildren as it helps put over in a straight forward way what can happen families under tyranny, your family it was fascism, for my little family it was t the rBath Party. All best wishes for great sales of your book, it should be read !!.

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  1. Dear Carol,
    An absolutely marvellous project which will be imbued with your deep feeling, sensitivity and multi talents. I feel so much the same sentiments as you although only half my heritage is Baghadi and the rest is Crimean and Turkish. I would so much have wished to have learned more from my dad, your uncle Heskell and our grandma,bMama but life was so full on when we were growing up. It is really only in later years that we have time for reflection..
    I would love to share thoughts with you.
    Happy new year and love from Ann

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  2. This sounds very exciting Carol. What a brilliant thing to be doing – I’m sure it must be really absorbing you. I would love to come and hear this music. Also, can I have a wolf too please?

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  3. Thank you dearest Carol – the soul force that is in your music/compositions, art, and writing will also make this return… excavation…of your beloved ancient homeland wonderful for us all.
    much love, from Regina.

    p.s Am listening to Saleh and Daoud Al-Kuwaiti -on You Tube – and am swept away… thank you some more. xxx

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    1. Habibi, I thank you for the conversation we had earlier this year on my first short graphic memoir “Deep Home” (which is being published this month) the title of which was given to me by your Indra. This project was the logical follow-on and I’ve had some amazing responses so far. I had hoped it would start dialogues between ourselves and I have not been disappointed. I will post some of the messages I have received since launching this blog soon.

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  4. It seems that some young people of Iraqi/Babylonian origin look at their origin and the past of their ancestors and want to evaluate and even appreciate what was lost. The culture developed during 2,600 years of exile should not be ignored.Many things were left behind and if no one takes the initiative to document the loss, then everything will be lost in the sands of time. According to an Iraqi Muslim historian, the Babylonian Jews brought music to Babylon. Archeological digging showed that musical instruments were brought to Babylon by the Jews who were exiled to Babylon and not before that.
    No doubt that with your initiative you are trying to show the world an important contribution of the Iraqi?Babylonian Jews to music.
    Good luck to you and Ye yasher Koach

    Sami, S.
    Montreal, Canada

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  5. The lost homeland is an emotional subject to many Iraqis in the diaspora. The 2600 years of shared history can not be erased, it has to be documented for our future generations and for humanity as a whole. I look forward to seeing the final outcome of this project, all the best Carol.

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  6. Hi Carol. Good luck to you. I said to you that as (your ucle) Haskell was ‘hand-in-glove’ for his work on the Geniza, so you are SOOO ‘hand-in-glove’ for this project. And it is so worthwhile. Behatzlacha

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