In Nine Love Letters, Gerald Jacobs tells the parallel stories of two fictional Jewish families, one in Baghdad, the other in Budapest; both live through the destruction of their respective communities and flee to London, where they eventually cross paths. Marina Gerner writes in her review:
Jacobs vividly captures the smells and sights of Baghdad. Emre, a watermelon merchant in the market, offers free samples to customers, who do not always end up buying from him. “Emre would react aggressively, waving his knife in the air.” A little later, Rivke, the matriarch of the Haroun family, “had good reasons to be anxious. For, although Emre was almost certainly harmless, others did brandish knives with more deliberate menace in the Baghdad of these days.”
In 1941, the Nazi sympathizer Rashid Ali al-Gaylani seizes power. The new Iraqi government supports the Germans and vilifies the British and the Jews, culminating in the Farhud, the Arabic equivalent of a Russian pogrom. “In the space of two days, 2,000 years of rich and fruitful Jewish life in Mesopotamia had come to a sudden, savage end.” . . .
In Budapest, where as in Baghdad roughly a quarter of the city’s population was then Jewish, we meet the family of Chaim and Sarah Weisz. To an Ashkenazi reader like me, this family’s setting is a lot more familiar—their deep love for literature and music and their intellectual debates, as well as the Hungarian way of life. . . .
Howard Jacobson has written that there is “a deceptive matter-of-factness about Jacobs’s writing which masks an exquisite sadness. His is the art of the refined miniaturist.” Jacobs deploys this skill to paint a moving triptych of joy and pain, as experienced by generations of Jewish families.