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The Cailiffs of Baghdad, Georgia: A Novel by…

The Cailiffs of Baghdad, Georgia: A Novel (edition 2010)

by Mary Helen Stefaniak

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11217107,804 (3.5)14
Title:The Cailiffs of Baghdad, Georgia: A Novel
Authors:Mary Helen Stefaniak
Info:W. W. Norton & Company (2010), Hardcover, 352 pages

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The Cailiffs of Baghdad, Georgia by Mary Helen Stefaniak



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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I just could not manage to get myself invested in the characters of this book, nor the events of their lives. Normally someone determined to educate a boy who Jim Crow says is not worth it, and at great risk to herself, would fascinate me. Miss Spivey, though, just annoyed me, particularly with her insistence to Gladys that Forest was truly a prince in disguise. I was annoyed and not compelled to continue reading.
  DevourerOfBooks | Dec 23, 2012 |
Truth be told, this story reminded me a lot of the infamous "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee. The Southern setting, the timeframe, the prejudices seen and the lead character chosen to divulge all the events that transpired. It's a story about prejudice. A story about how everyone has the right to learn no matter their race, age or background. A story about accepting our differences, or heck even celebrating them the best way we know how.

The narrators' voice (Gladys Cailiff) was honest and truthful; its innocence retained both before and after the events played out....it just had a new set of eyes through which to view the world. Miss Spivey was a breath of fresh air to a town that was seriously due for a spring cleaning...whether they knew it or not. She's not perfect and her transgressions end up being her downfall, but she really tries to make a difference and throw a new coat of paint on a tiresome old problem. In short, her character is a firecracker with a lot of heart and had it not been for her impact on Gladys' life, I don't think she would have amounted to half the person she did.

Theo Boykin on the other hand was a character we'd have loved to see go far but was ill fated from the start. He achieves so many things in his youth that one could barely fathom the feats he would have reached given the chance. Then there's those characters you love to hate like Mavis and Mr. Gordan. Sometimes they get what's coming to them, other times not so much but they make the story complete in the end. The extended family, friends and not-so-friendlies all play a roll as this story unfolds, something to keep in mind as they are introduced.

There is one part that started to lose me about 2/3 of the way in. Certain events transpire leading to a rather lengthy story telling from the town's temporarily dubbed Shahrazad (a story teller from their play), where truth and fiction are woven together to create a masterpiece worth turning your attention to. It was done well and anyone that wasn't focused on it rather than the events actually happening in the town just wasn't paying attention...however, for me it got a bit TOO into the historical tale. Admittedly, I'm not a huge historical fiction fan in the true sense of the word so that probably played a part...but had the ending not weaved it way back on course, my "final" opinion on this one might have differed.

In conclusion, I enjoyed the story a great deal and warn you, once you enter the town of Baghdad, Georgia you may not want to leave. Though it's true, you will meet those who will stand against you, if you don't stand for something you'll fall for anything, right? Whole heartedly recommended to older teens (there's one scene not quite proper for younger eyes even if the narrator is a child) through adults the reading world over. ( )
  GRgenius | Dec 8, 2011 |
I was delighted with this book. It was complicated for the author to write, I'm quite sure and yet, there is never a misstep as she relates her story, Scherezade-like to her readers. There is a story-within-a-story-within-a-story, certainly, and the book in its entirety is quite long, but I don't believe that the author, Mary Helen Stefaniak ever lost the careful reader. I listened to it on audiobook and I felt it was long, and perhaps could have benefited from some careful editing, but it was an interesting, exciting story and I found myself caring for the characters and full of anger for the bigotry suffered by so many of them. It sprung from a delightful premise and was probably a huge undertaking to keep all the characters and stories straight, but the most important aspect is to keep it straight for the reader and I feel she pulled it off. Don't expect a quick read but settle in to enjoy a deeply courageous book filled with empathy, excitement, story-telling within the story, romance, suspense, you name it, it is in there. I recommend it for both old and young readers. You must decide for yourself if it might be too long, but you will never be bored! ( )
1 vote mmignano11 | Oct 16, 2011 |
Gladys Cailiff is an eleven-year-old student in a one-room schoolhouse in Threestep, Georgia in 1938 when a new teacher comes to town. Miss Spivey is not your typical teacher. Just back from a visit to the Middle East, she teaches the students about far away lands and reads stories from The Thousand Nights and a Night. She's not afraid to break the rules, tutoring Black students like Gladys's neighbor Theo Boykin. Theo is a genius, and when Miss Spivey decides to host a Baghdad Bazaar, he becomes her Chief Engineer. But in 1930's Georgia, Miss Spivey meets with resistance from some of the townspeople. The tension builds as we try to figure out if she will be able to win them over in the end.

On its surface, this is an engaging story. Gladys is a winning narrator, and I had to root for Miss Spivey. But there is more to the book than its primary storyline. On another level, this is a story about storytelling. Miss Spivey captures the attention of her students and eventually the townspeople with stories from One Thousand Nights and a Night. And at a crucial moment in the story, when the townspeople have gathered together (I won't reveal why), Gladys's sister May tells a series of related stories that link the small town in Georgia with camel drivers in the Middle East and a lion that is discovered during Sherman's march across Georgia.

I loved the theme of storytelling that runs through this book. However, there were several times that it felt like Stefaniak was perhaps trying to do too much. I was so interested in the people of Threestep, Georgia that I hated to be pulled out of that world for too long. But in the end, this book was a pleasant surprise, with more layers than I expected. ( )
2 vote porch_reader | Mar 23, 2011 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
When I started this book I was really enjoying it even though it was moving rather slowly for me. As I got further into the story I found myself setting the book down and not wanting to pick it up again. I usually enjoy southern fiction. I had a hard time following where this story was going and ultimately gave up on it. Maybe at some point I will be curious enough to pick it back up and finish it. After reading other reviews I am thinking it just may not have been a book for me. ( )
  bookaholicmom | Mar 11, 2011 |
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Throughout history, the powers of sinle black men flash here and there like falling stars, and die sometimes before the world has rightly gauged their brightness.

W.E. B. DuBois

The Souls of Black Folk

Baghdad, the city whose name has a power of evocation that neither far distances nor other-world civilizations can destroy. The Baghdad of old is only slumbering beneath the Baghdad of today, andis awakened to life by almost every incident and sight and sound that we encounter.
Janet Miller
Camel-bells of Baghdad
For my mother Mary McCullough Elleseg

In memory of her mother Mattie Califf McCullough
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Miss Grace Spivey arrived in Threestep, Georgia, in August of 1938.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0393063100, Hardcover)

A big-hearted story of a Depression-era small town turned upside down by a worldly teacher.

Narrator Gladys Cailiff is eleven years old in 1938 when a new, well-traveled young schoolteacher turns a small Georgia town upside down. Miss Grace Spivey believes in field trips, Arabian costumes, and reading aloud from her ten-volume set of The Thousand Nights and a Night. The real trouble begins when she decides to revive the annual town festival as an exotic Baghdad bazaar. Miss Spivey transforms the lives of everyone around her: Gladys's older brother Force (with his movie-star looks), her pregnant sister May (a gifted storyteller herself), and especially the Cailiffs' African American neighbor, young Theo Boykin, whose creative genius becomes the key to a colorful, hidden history of the South.

Populated by unforgettable characters—including three impressive camels—The Cailiffs of Baghdad, Georgia rides a magic carpet from a segregated schoolroom in Georgia to the banks of the Tigris (and back again) in an entrancing feat of storytelling.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:51 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Eleven-year-old Gladys Califf and her Depression-era community are turned upside down when a worldly teacher, who is fascinated with all things Arabian, moves into the small town.

(summary from another edition)

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W.W. Norton

2 editions of this book were published by W.W. Norton.

Editions: 0393063100, 0393341135

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