Book Review 3

Full Circle: Escape from Baghdad and the Return Saul Silas Fathi
Xlibris, Philadelphia, PA, $28.95 USD, paperback (632p)
ISBN: 1-4134-9458-7The background is familiar from countless history lessons: The rights of Jews are curtailed. Organized attacks on the Jewish community begins as anti-Semitism builds to terrifying levels. A desperate family smuggles its children to freedom in a daring escape. The twist: This is not the story of an Ashkenazi Jew in Europe during the Holocaust but that of a Sephardic Jew in Iraq during the same time.Author Saul Silas Fathi’s early childhood was spent as the privileged son of a highranking Jew in Baghdad in the years leading up to World War II. In 1941, public sentiment against the Jews exploded into the Farhood, the Iraqi equivalent of the German Krystalnacht. Fathi’s parents arranged to smuggle the 10-year-old boy and his 8-year old brother to Iran, and then to Israel.

That early brush with danger and adventure permanently marked FathiÑhe has spent a good deal of his life wandering the globe. After studying electrical engineering through the Israeli Air Force, Fathi left Israel to travel to Brazil and then to the U.S. Trouble with his student visa led him to join the U.S. Army, and his tour of duty took him to Korea. After returning to the U.S., he earned a degree in electrical engineering, worked in toplevel positions with high-tech companies, started several businesses, and even volunteered to assist the FBI after September 11, 2001.

This memoir of a remarkable life is very simply written, but its simplicity echoes its authenticity. The tone is that of a grandfather, albeit a remarkably adventurous one, relaying his life’s story for posterity. His lust for life is evident throughout, including his rather matter-of-fact treatment of his sexual exploits.

Rather than a carefully woven narrative thread, the book’s vignettes are strung together by proximity of time or the characters involved. Given the wide range of Fathi’s experiences and a history of globetrotting that spans seven decades, the reader could do with a cast of characters at the beginning of the book.

While Fathi’s writing style is not polished, his story is immensely compelling. He tells of the constant underground anti-Semitism he faced, even in places he thought were safe. He considers both the casual bigotry he faced in the U.S. Army and the coerced conversion of Jews throughout history. Tied up in his adventures is not just a wanderlust, but a longing for home, particularly compelling in the context of the Jews as an exiled people.

With its unique insights into the Middle East of the mid-twentieth century, this memoir will be of particular interest to history buffs and those interested in Jewish studies.

BookWire Review
February 14, 2006

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