Three Worlds: Memoirs of an Arab-Jew

Three Worlds: Memoirs of an Arab-Jew

Avi Shlaim

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A unique coming-of-age story from the lost world of Arab-Jews

In July 1950, Avi Shlaim, only five, and his family were forced into exile, fleeing their beloved Iraq to the new state of Israel.

'Remarkable.' Max Hastings, THE SUNDAY TIMES

Today the once flourishing Jewish community of Iraq, at one time numbering over 130,000 and tracing its history back 2,600 years, has all but vanished.

Why so? One explanation speaks of the timeless clash between Arab and Jewish civilisations and a heroic Zionist mission to rescue Eastern Jews from backward nations and unceasing persecution.

Avi Shlaim tears up this script. His parents had many Muslim friends in Baghdad and no interest in Zionism. As anti-Semitism surged in Iraq, the Zionist underground fanned the flames. Yet when Iraqi Jews fled to Israel, they faced an uncertain future, their history was rewritten to serve a Zionist narrative.

This memoir breathes life into an almost forgotten world. Weaving together the personal and the political, Three Worlds offers a fresh perspective on Arab-Jews, caught in the crossfire of Zionism and nationalism.


'At the heart of this riveting and profoundly controversial book is Shlaim’s investigation into the Baghdad bombings against Jewish targets in 1950 and 1951… This is a beautifully written book which artfully blends the personal with the political. The recollections of family life in both its glory and its anguished tribulations are vividly recreated. Shlaim’s is a powerful and humane voice which reminds us that the Palestinians were not the only victims of the creation of Israel in 1948.' —Spectator

'Three Worlds, by the Oxford historian of the modern Middle East Avi Shlaim, is an often enchanting memoir of his childhood in Baghdad... A gripping account... A lost world in Iraq, which is brilliantly brought back to life in this fascinating memoir.' —David Abulafia, Financial Times

'[An] absorbing, contentious memoir… Even if it “cannot be rebuilt”, Three Worlds, quite marvellously, brings [the old world of Iraq] back to life.' —TLS

'An intimate and engaging life story that forces the reader to re-examine three very different worlds – Iraq, Israel and Britain – in the middle decades of the twentieth century. A reflective and insightful plunge into the identity politics of the Arab-Jew by one of Britain’s greatest public intellectuals. But also the best book I’ve read all year.' —Eugene Rogan, author of The Arabs

'Three Worlds juxtaposes a fascinating family story, unfolding across Iraq, Israel, and the UK, with an intriguing historical account of Iraqi Jews during an especially calamitous period. Here the preeminent scholar of the Arab–Israeli conflict furnishes a precious personal glimpse into a past in which Arab-Jews figure prominently, generating a more subtle and multilayered picture of the partition of Palestine and its aftermath.' —Ella Shohat, author of On the Arab-Jew

'In this detailed, resonant account, historian Shlaim recalls the complexities of growing up as an Arab Jew in Iraq and Israel… Those interested in alternative Jewish attitudes toward Zionism will find this illuminating.' —Publishers Weekly

'Sharply observed, and without stridency, in making a case for an ecumenical Israel.' —Kirkus

Brave… Well written and informative, this is a fascinating glimpse into a forgotten world.’ —Tablet

'Vivid This luminous memoir… offers readers a chance to reimagine life not ruled by force, fear, deceit and exclusion.' —Middle East Eye

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