Shortly after celebrated author Sami Michael’s 90th birthday, one of his best-loved novels — A Trumpet in the Wadi — was “delisted” from the list of recommended high-school reading in Israel; andother, Refuge, was banned “for political reasons”:
A Trumpet in the Wadi tells the love story of a Russian-Jewish immigrant, Alex, and a Palestinian Christian, Huda. Last year in Haifa, where it was set, it was staged as a play. According to Haaretz, A Trumpet in the Wadi is the Iraqi Jewish author’s most popular novel.
Indeed, the chairwoman of the sub-committee that dealt with literature, Dr. Oshra Alfasi, told Haaretz that was the problem: It was already popular, so they needn’t recommend it. (Haaretz went on to note that the committee wasn’t afraid to recommend another popular book.) It was replaced by another of Michael’s novels
Michael’s 1977 novel Refuge, which is also set among Jews and Palestinians in Haifa, this time during the Yom Kippur War, “was barred from the list for political reasons,” according to Haaretz. Alfasi told the newspaper that a book that dealt with “the Palestinian-Jewish discourse, not to say communist, didn’t seem relevant to us to put into the curriculum.”
Michael began his career writing in Arabic. He was born in Baghdad in August, 1926, when the city had a thriving Jewish community.
Although he enrolled in engineering school in Baghdad, he was also writing and working as a political activist. Because of his political activity, the Iraqi Court issued a warrant for Sami’s arrest; his father had him smuggled to Iran. A year later, in 1949, Sami left Iran for Israel.
It took fifteen years before he started writing in Hebrew. When he did, his works were often both about Palestinians and Jews, investigating the humanity of both.
Michael, who remains at 90 the president of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, told Haaretz: “It’s ironic that the committee is burning one of the students’ oldest bridges to the world of Mizrahi Jews.”
Both A Trumpet in the Wadi and Refuge are available in English translation.