"Mother of the Pound" is an intriguing title and awkwardly un-English. This is due to its direct and literal translation of the Arabic "Um el pound."
The author, David Kazzaz, explains that it was a nickname the Jewish community in Baghdad gave to "a brave young woman called Louise..." whom he knew from birth, and who emerged as a true heroine amidst the fear and harassment that engulfed the Jews of Baghdad in the 1940's. According to him "...with a British pound pinned to her lapel... she led the exodus that would swell to include 92% of her people."
During the Taskeet, "She set an example by leading her people to freedom" and became "Known from Baghdad to Jerusalem as the mother of the pound."
In the late 1940's, David Kazzaz got engaged to Louise. In those times, when a young lady got engaged, she would receive a gold coin, a silver coin and two copper coins from her fiancé. When David Kazzaz gave his fiancé a gold pound coin, Louise made it into a sort of brooch which she pinned to her lapel. According to him, she was the first person to dare go into a Taskeet office in 1950 and renounce her nationality and apply for a laisser passer to leave Iraq. This brave gesture was a real act of courage for anyone to do, let alone a woman, and it apparently encouraged a flood of Baghdadi Jews to do the same. As a result, she became a celebrity nicknamed Mother of the Pound all because of her gold pin.
Although she subsequently got into trouble when leaving Baghdad because of it - she was accused of and tried for smuggling gold out of the country - she finally made it to Israel where she married David Kazzaz.
It is her courage which inspires Kazzaz to write this book which is organised in four parts. Part one focuses on his personal recollections, family history and the rhythm and traditions of daily life in Baghdad. Part two describes the biblical and historical roots of the Babylonian Jews. In part three, a more recent history of Iraq, and Baghdad in particular, is evoked. And part four is his account of his life in Israel where he pursues a post-doctoral training in neurology at Jerusalem's Hadassah Hospital before moving to the United States, where he practices psychiatry for 27 years. Kazzaz ends his book with a message to all human kind: "...know yourself. Cling to your physical and spiritual roots. Believe in yourself. Your own will can mould your fate."
A touching and informative book which makes engaging reading, although the repetitive praising of his wife's qualities was slightly irritating. And, come to think of it, why does he omit to mention her family name? It is odd that he only refers to her as Louise, or the mother of the pound.
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