In This Is Why We Don’t Look Back, Sarah Sassoon does look back—and we readers are grateful that we get to be part of her Judeo-Arabic speaking Iraqi Jewish family. Appealing to all our senses, Sassoon allows us to experience her grandmother’s kitchen with its garlic-filled “whiff of Baghdad”; her foremothers who were dhimmis, “harbored in black hijabs/ the color of wailing”; the “syntax” of the moon, “punctuated by teatime laced with honeyed lemon, mint, and cardamom.” Sassoon’s ghazal, “Once Upon a Time in Baghdad,” is a tour de force, ending with two deeply moving and evocative lines: “Searching for Al-Rashid street I frantically seek my Arabic name, joy and delight./ Hebrew princess, exile echoes empty in my Yahudi blood—a whisper of Baghdad.”
Nancy Naomi Carlson
Judge, 2002 Jewish Women’s Poetry Prize
Sarah Sassoon’s debut collection is a bold and honest attempt to unearth her own family history of Iraqi Jews, a history long undermined and overlooked. “This is why my grandparents are silent,” Sasson says in a quiet, unflinching voice, “their history dumped in the river.” Her words both echo and respond to those of Adrienne Rich, who seeks “the wreck and not the story of the wreck / the thing itself and not the myth” In lyrical language, Sassoon concocts a sensuous collection of poetry, brimming over with jasmine, garlic, rationed eggs in a refugee camp, cardamon, purple figs and plump Medjool dates. Sassoon looks back – and dares you to do the same.
Translator of Less Like a Dove, Frayed Light, My Wild Garden