For thousands of years Jews flourished in Iraq, living in relative peace and harmony with their neighbors. In Memories of Eden, Violette Shamash (1912 – 2006) recalls the home she regarded as a paradise. The book is composed of a series of heartwarming writings dispatched to and later edited by her daughter Mira and her son-in-law, the journalist Tony Roca (who, in an afterword, provides an historical context). Shamash describes her school days, her rites of passage and the celebration of the Jewish holidays. She remembers their food, the commerce and street life of the city, and the pleasant relationships they enjoyed with the Moslems.
Sadly, the conditions which Shamash considered so idyllic were not to prevail, and the latter portion of the book describes the clash between cultures that reached its zenith in the “Farhud” of 1941. At first, as tensions between Moslems and Jews mounted, Shamash felt little pressure, viewing such things as the donning of the abaaya as little more than an inconvenience. Then as heckling, curfews, and violence made life unbearable for Jews, she and her family fled — first to India, then to Palestine, and finally to England. They became one more family among the one million “forgotten refugees” of Arab countries. This eminently readable family history portrays how Jews and Moslems can live together and the dynamic that tears them apart.