“This book is a record of descendants of Baghdadi Jewish merchants who settled in the Treaty Port of Shanghai in the mid-19th century,” says Maisie Meyer. “They are authentic voices, allowing us a glimpse of bygone days of privilege, and the rich diversity that made the community so vibrant. It offers infinite perspectives of personalities whose lives were shaped by crucial historical events and enriches our understanding of history. Over 50 photographs enable us to visualise the lives and times of these individuals. They are seen in the context of the founding fathers of the community who laid the infrastructure to preserve its identity.”
How did your book come about?
“Its genesis was my resolve to preserve the memory of this mercantile community by providing an opportunity for genuine self-expression to men and women who have not been heard so far, among them nonagenarians and seven who have since passed away. Clearly, time is of the essence in preserving these important segments of history that must be valued, particularly as communal records have yet to be traced. Growing up in a colonial setting in India gives me a deeper understanding of Shanghai’s Baghdadi Jews and their desire to appear as British as possible within the parameters of their faith.”
What has been your experience with the subjects of the book?
“Far from being an arduous task, writing this book developed into an exciting adventure of being drawn into the worldwide network of Shanghai’s Baghdadi Jews. My primary undertaking was to recruit a team of 24 from a wide cross-section covering the entire spectrum of the community to write reliable narratives, warts and all, of their lives in Shanghai. Friendships developed and ideas exchanged, enabling me to acquire the deeper insight required to analyse and resolve several subtle and intriguing issues, most notably regarding the identity of a community born and bred into a culture to which they did not really belong.”
How did you do your background research?
“From the Rivers of Babylon to the Whangpoo: A Century of Sephardi Jewish Life in Shanghai was based on my doctoral thesis. In this volume, Sir Victor Sassoon’s biography includes groundbreaking references to diaries he meticulously kept between 1927 and 1961. The Kadoorie family biography incorporates a raft of correspondence, between Sir Horace