Carol Isaacs: The Wolf of Baghdad and Longing for a Lost Homeland

An image of Carol Isaacs appearing at Persephone Books
Musician, cartoonist and graphic memoirist Carol Isaacs keeps us spellbound during her event at Persephone Books.

by Catherine Temma Davidson

On Wednesday February 12, 2020, Upper Wimpole Street returned to Persephone Books to hear Carol Isaacs discuss—and perform—parts of her new graphic memoir, The Wolf of Baghdad.

Sarah Lightman, whose graphic memoir The Book of Sarah was launched the previous February at another Upper Wimpole Street, led the talk with an insightful interview. She and Carol explored the way families both invite and resist our attempts to narrate them, and how we can make peace with the ghosts of the past.

Carol is a multi-talented artist – a musician, visual innovator and writer. A highly accomplished professional keyboard player, Caroline is also the founder of the London Klezmer Quartet, an ensemble specialising in traditional Iraqi songs of the Judeo-Arabic community.

Carol accompanied her animated slideshow presentation with her own soundtrack of traditional accordion music. The effect was transporting. We watched and listened as the ghost of the present haunted scenes of a vanished world – the multi-layered history of Carol’s extended family in Baghdad, whose roots go back hundreds of years. The “wolf” is a benign guide, a protector, leading her to a world she has never known but can only imagine.

Carol’s many talents came together in a moving meditation on exile and return, and the way the second generation of refugee families is often gifted—or burdened—with a desire to rediscover a homeland that has vanished forever.

This longing for a world you have never known is more than nostalgia, Carol explained in the discussion afterwards. There is even a word for it in Finnish, kaukukaipuu. As we went around the room, we discovered it exists in many other languages, too: farsickness, fernweh, hiraeth…

We are grateful to Persephone Book for providing our venue for this very special event. Its ghosts are always friendly and feel like colleagues. It means a great deal to launch new work and new ways of narrating stories in such a beautiful setting, surrounded by curious, interesting, intelligent writing women – in person and on the page.

The Wold of Baghdad is now available from Myriad Editions.