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The Cailiffs of Baghdad, Georgia

Winner of the 2011 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Fiction
Independent booksellers' Indie Next Great Read
Wisconsin Library Association Outstanding Achievement

The fate of a camel driver on the Arabian Peninsula in 1916, the birth of a circus in the wake of Sherman’s army, the role of an enchanted pitcher in a ninth-century war, and the journey of an ingenious young Muslim from his African home to the coastal islands of Georgia—all these and other surprising stories come to light as The Cailiffs of Baghdad, Georgia rides a magic carpet from a schoolroom in the South to the banks of the Tigris (and back again) in an entrancing feat of storytelling.

Narrator Gladys Cailiff is eleven years old in 1938 when a new schoolteacher turns Threestep, Georgia, upside down. Miss Grace Spivey is a well-traveled young woman who believes in field trips, Arabian costumes, and reading aloud from her ten-volume set of One 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 and her project transform the lives of everyone around her: Gladys’s older brother Force (with his movie-star looks), their 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.

Praise for The Cailiffs of Baghdad, Georgia

“A heartfelt, redemptive, and irresistible novel. Stefaniak knows that every story is many stories, and she handles the complex tales of romance, family, race relations, and secrets with intelligence, grace, and tenderness.”  John  Dufresne


“This novel has strong, long legs. I hope it walks forever. Besides delivering suspenseful, eloquently detailed, non-sentimental prose, it spoons out a big dose of clarity that America needs.” Clyde Edgerton


“Wonderfully engaging … a great tribute to the power of education, strong women and the fine art of storytelling… an intricate dazzling pattern of history and imagination and truth.” Jill McCorkle


"Mary Helen Stefaniak is a born storyteller, with a fantastic gift for mingling the exotic and the ordinary, the comic and the heartrending. Her tale of drastic change coming to a small Southern town in the 1930's is filled with wild incidents, vivid characters, and a surprise at every turn--a delight to read."  Lynne Sharon Schwartz


"Miss Jean Brodie finally meets her match in the delightful, charismatic Miss Grace Spivey. Mary Helen Stefaniak has created a generous, tender, witty, provocative novel."  Valerie Miner, author of After Eden and The Low Road


"Set in the 1930s, The Cailiffs of Baghdad, Georgia centers around one magical night when the Middle East comes radiantly to life in the deep South. Taking her cue from The Arabian Nights, Mary Helen Stefaniak has fashioned a sequence of stories within stories to uncover forgotten links in American history and to probe the myriad facets of prejudice. This unique novel delves into the nation's recent past in order to caution us about the imminent future."   Judith Kitchen, author of The House on Eccles Road and The Poets' Guide to the Birds