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Review: “The Cailiffs of Baghdad, Georgia” by Mary Helen Stefaniak

September 6, 2010

The Cailiffs of Baghdad, Georgia by Mary Helen Stefaniak came to me through LibraryThing‘s Early Reviewers program.  When it arrived in the mail — thankfully, before I left! — I read a few pages and immediately put it into my suitcase.  From the first page to the last, this novel had me hooked.  I was delighted by the writing and completely drawn in by the story.  The characters were every bit as endearing (if not more so!) than the quirky cast of Shaffer & Barrows’s The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

The Cailiffs of Baghdad Georgia Cover

Our narrator, a young girl by the name of Gladys, is one of many children in the Cailiff family of Threestep, Georgia.  Through her eyes, and alongside her delightfully entertaining commentary, the tale of Miss Spivey and the Baghdad Bazaar unfolds.

It is August of 1938 when Miss Grace Spivey steps off the train in tiny Threestep to begin her new job as the teacher for the town’s one-room schoolhouse.  She is, as the town’s children  quickly discover, nothing like any teacher they’ve had in the past.  For one, she has traveled to places all over the world, including Baghdad.  For another, she has spent enough time in the North to challenge some Southern ways of life.  To most of the children in Threestep, she and her tales of camels and jinns and harems are nothing short of magical.  When she begins to plan a Baghdad Bazaar for the school’s yearly fundraiser, featuring a stage adaptation of Alaeddin from One Thousand Nights and a Night, almost everyone is on board.

But the longer Miss Spivey is in town, the more her actions begin to rub certain people the wrong way.  As she charges ahead with her plans, everything begin to unravel, leaving no one in Threestep untouched.

The Cailiffs of Baghdad, Georgia is an enchanting novel peopled with a splendid cast of characters and written in a style that’s easy and wonderful to read.  I loved it from start to finish and will most definitely be looking into more of Mary Helen Stefaniak’s work!

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