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The Cailiffs of Baghdad, Georgia

3.39  ·  Rating Details  ·  426 Ratings  ·  134 Reviews
As an epigraph from The Souls of Black Folk by W. E. B. Du Bois reminds us at the start of this novel, "Throughout history, the powers of single black men flash here and there like falling stars, and die sometimes before the world has rightly gauged their brightness."

Protagonist Theo Boykin is a genius, an artist, an inventor, a Leonardo DaVinci–type, whose talents are sou
ebook, 368 pages
Published September 19th 2011 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published 2010)
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Tara Chevrestt
This was a decent read, but I don't see myself reading it again or recommending it to my friends. It's told from the viewpoint of an eleven year girl and I found her narrative and thoughts rather charming. Gladys (cause her mother was so happy to see her when she was born!) is growing up in a very small town in Georgia full of pecan trees and white dirt. The year is 1938 so she goes to school in a one room schoolhouse. Tho in an old time setting full of old fashioned people, the new schoolteache ...more
I really enjoyed the first half of The Cailiffs of Baghdad, Georgia. Gladys, the eleven-year-old narrator, has an authentic voice. The town of Threestep, Georgia in 1938 feels very real. The author does a great job of capturing the times and the location. Despite the large number of characters, they are described in sufficient detail that they are easy to keep straight. The author has clearly done a tremendous amount of research.

A new teacher, a world traveler, arrives and shakes up the town in
Aug 26, 2010 Susan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When the unconventional Miss Spivey, world traveler, is sent by the WPA to teach in the 1 room schoolhouse in Threestep, Georgia in 1938, the townspeople have no idea how their world is going to change. Especially when it seems that she doesn't know that the “coloreds” should not have the same opportunities as the whites. Especially when she decides that she will start a Baghdad Bazaar, based on her ten-volume set of One Thousand and One Nights.

As in all good Southern lit, this story is filled
Susan Aizenberg
Mar 12, 2011 Susan Aizenberg rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Full disclosure-- the brilliant Mary Helen Stefaniak is a friend of mine. That said, BELIEVE me when I say this is a stunning book -- intelligent, humane, funny, clear-eyed and compassionate. You won't forget these characters, and the book has much to tell us about how we live and think now.
I rated this four stars because it was hard to put down. I do understand the concerns some readers had with the tales within a tale within a tale towards the end of the book. They were hard to keep up with--I found myself thinking I should diagram them to keep track of who was who--but in the end, I liked it. Told from the point of view of a young girl, it is the story of a town in Georgia in 1938/39 called Baghdad and the adventurous school teacher who had actually been to the middle eastern Ba ...more
Will Byrnes
Wait, wait. Don’t go. Let me tell you a story. I assure you it will be worth your while. Come, sit, sit. May I offer you some tea, some dates perhaps? No? Very well.

A very engaging writer named Mary Helen Stefaniak has written a wonderful story. Her tale begins back in 1938, a very grim time in most of the world. A young woman of 29 years arrived in Threestep, Georgia to take over the job of teacher. (There was no mention of a puff of smoke.) Grace Spivey was her name and she had a great impact
Sep 06, 2010 Erin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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”.

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 S
Jun 19, 2015 Liza rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-i-own
Full disclosure: I met Mary Helen Stefaniak a few months ago, as she is an advisor in my MFA program (though currently only for fiction, which means I likely won't work with her). She is friendly and warm and we talked about coffee filters on a van ride from the grocery store to the hotel. But I had wanted to read this book since long before I knew I would be in the program and have an opportunity to talk to her about anything at all.
I fell in love with all of the main characters, within just a
Nov 13, 2015 Kendall rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Here's a sad tidbit for you: when Baghdad was built in AD 762 it was known as Madinat as-Salam -- in English, The City of Peace.

Nearly two-thirds through The Cailiffs of Baghdad, Georgia, the novel meanders its way into an entrancing story within a story within a story (yes, it goes on and on, fun-house mirror style) that takes the readers to the middle east and backwards in time to a land ruled by Caliphs and populated with people fascinated by illusions and tricks. This intentionally Schehera
Aug 23, 2015 Marie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I know I’m giving what some would think is a low rating at three stars (though I have some complaints about that with past review-critiques and I’m like “Three means GOOD. It was a solid, good book. Four means WOW I LOVED IT and Five means HOLY CRAP I CAN’T EVEN WITH THIS BOOK!!.” So now you know.)

I digress. That was all for lead up to the obvious fact that I read this in two days. I did practically nothing but read it. I neglected all other activities. The author is clearly a master at suspense
Nov 08, 2010 Amy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
So the fact that the author was at book group tonight may have made me a bit biased. The story of how the story came to be is almost as entertaining as the book itself. Someone at book group said that reading a book after hearing an author reading makes her hear the author's voice reading the book. Can't wait to re-read with Mary Helen Steganiak's voice in my head!
Wesley Paine
Jun 12, 2014 Wesley Paine rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Delightful--funny, sad, hopeful. Speaks of the power and importance of storytelling, of non-traditional education, of strong women. Loved the narrator, Gladys; the voice is almost perfect.

Two quibbles: Nashville is not even close to the Smoky Mountains (Nashville appears only momentarily, but it's still annoying to have a character look out a window and sigh over the view of the Smokies--c'mon!) And even more irritating (because it occurs more often) is the use of "y'all" as a singular pronoun.
Jan 26, 2015 Lindsey rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Twice a year I go to a used book sale and one of my favorite things to do is pick up a book or two that I've never heard of because maybe I will find a jewel in the rough. That was the case with The Cailiffs of Baghdad, Georgia by Mary Helen Stefaniak. Miss Spivey is a world traveled school teacher who ends up in the tiny town of Threestep, Georgia in 1938. She is determined to stretch the minds of the kids and the racial boundaries of the town. She uses the stories of Arabian Nights to teach th ...more
Oct 03, 2014 Olivia rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a pretty good book. It took a while to get started, the first half of the book had a pretty slow moving plot and was kind of hard for me to get through, but towards the end the pace picked up a little and it got a lot more interesting. The way the author tied so many different stories together in the end was a little hard to follow but still made for a good story. Though the beginning was really slow, the end tied in a lot of really interesting and very different stories that ended up b ...more
Hmm, my review disappeared. I expected light and fun reading but what I got was poor writing. There were many problems including a long digression, too heavy foreshadowing and stereotypical characters.
Oct 30, 2011 Paula rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Mostly I liked this book, although at times it bogged down and I would put it down and then I would end up picking it up again. It took me awhile to get it read.
I became interested in this book when the author, Mary Helen Stefaniak, visited my creative writing class at the University of North Carolina. You can tell that Stefaniak conducted extensive research in the process of writing this novel.

Overall, this was a pretty good book. I'd recommend it to fans of Southern fiction, historical fiction, and stories with good character development. The characters are well-drawn and compelling, and I really enjoyed the narration by 11-year-old Gladys Cailiff.

May 12, 2011 Eliza rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is quirky; it successfully combines the troubled times of Depression-era small-town Georgia with the mystique and mystery of the Middle East. It’s an odd combination in many ways, blending the KKK with the stories of the Thousand and One Nights in one book, they don’t really fit together, but it works. For example, it discusses racial tensions in relation to a community production of the tale of Aladdin & his magic lamp. A black boy is only allowed to play to part in the production ...more
Dec 08, 2011 Gmr rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: teens through adult readers and fans of 'To Kill a Mockingbird'
Recommended to Gmr by: publisher
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
David Smith
Jan 02, 2013 David Smith rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In The Cailiffs of Baghdad, Georgia, Mary Helen Stefaniak interweaves the ancient tales of The Arabian Nights with an intimate historical narrative of life in the 1930s Deep South. The concept is unique, the execution marvelous – in every sense of the word. The Depression-era “frame tale” is compelling enough in itself, funny and wise and snarky, imbued with a Jane Austen-like irony that pokes gentle fun at all sorts of everyday hypocrisy, large and small. Yet, by finding so many layers of reson ...more
Nov 27, 2013 Ellen rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is a sure-fire hit and would be great for a book club. The story of the Cailiffs of Baghdad, Georgia is told by one Gladys Cailiff, eleven years old in 1938. Gladys's school gets a new teacher, Miss Spivey, who is paid by the WPA and who is a very unusual character. Miss Spivey wants the children in her one room school to explore the world and to learn about other places and other cultures so she offers them field trips, experiments and wonderful stories - particularly the Arabian Nigh ...more
Scott Rhee
Feb 06, 2012 Scott Rhee rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: southern
Mary Helen Stefaniak's novel "The Cailiffs of Baghdad, Georgia" is a funny, endearing novel about racial tolerance. I suppose it's appropriate that I finished this book on the observed holiday of Martin Luther King, Jr., a day which (sadly) not many people, including myself, often think about other than as a day off from schools and some businesses. Do you think MLK would appreciate the fact that his day has become a 2-day appliance sales event at Sears? I'm thinking no. If there has ever been a ...more
Aug 07, 2012 Elizabeth rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Cailiffs of Baghdad, Georgia by Mary Helen Stephaniak places us in the deepest, darkest parts of the United States in 1938—Threestep, Georgia, or at least that is where they send Ms. Grace Spivey (world traveller, Barnard alumni, and Nashville debutante) when she signs up for the WPA teacher’s program with that requested destination.

Narrator Gladys Cailiff looks back to tell us how Threestep became Baghdad, how the Sea Islands saved a royal family, how a circus was formed from Sherman’s Mar
Citizens of a small Georgia town in the 1930s come to examine and adjust their racist views when a well-traveled, well-educated teacher begins teaching at the local school. The story was contrived and predictable but nevertheless engaging right on up through the night of the bazaar, then it sadly lost its momentum. The end of the book was all about trying to cram in a lot of stories-within-the-story, and I could have done without that. I'm sure the author intended to enhance the plot and mimic t ...more
This book was really stop-and-go for me. The highlights were some really beautiful writing, a richly imagined small-town world, and some creative story structuring ideas. Unfortunately, all these positives couldn't make up for what ultimately ended up being sort of a plodding story, especially when the plot suddenly digresses for sixty-odd pages just before the novel's end.

I see what the author was trying to do with the story-within-a-story-within-a-story format near the end of the book. It did
Suzanne Kehm
Apr 20, 2011 Suzanne Kehm rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Ever meet a family that reminds you of your tribe? That’s when you know for sure they’re going to be teaching you some things. You best listen. Take the Cailiffs, in Mary Helen Stefaniak’s “The Cailiffs of Baghdad, Georgia. Stefaniak’s narrator, young Gladys Cailiff takes your hand with a grip you haven’t felt since Scout put you under the spell of Atticus Finch.

Gladys’ observations are as guileless and funny as they are insightful. Through her eyes, we meet and fall in love with a family, a nei
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jaime Boler
Nov 14, 2011 Jaime Boler rated it it was amazing
Mary Helen Stefaniak is the author of The Cailiffs of Baghdad, Georgia.

First, I would like to think Mary Helen for agreeing to this interview. I really appreciate it!

Jaime Boler: When did you begin writing this novel? And what inspired you to write it?

Mary Helen Stefaniak: I began writing this novel in March 2003 after reading a newspaper story about the shock-and-awe bombing of Baghdad. I knew almost at once that I wanted to write a novel in which a group of Americans had a relationship to Bagh
Paula Elder
Apr 01, 2011 Paula Elder rated it really liked it
I love novels that take place in the South. Nowhere else could you put together all the “eccentric” characters and unusual (to most of us, at least) events and have a plot that is both believable and unbelievable at the same time! The Cailiffs of Baghdad, Georgia by Mary Helen Stefaniak is one of those stories.
The story takes place in the late 1930’s, when the Depression was still in full swing. The WPA sent out teachers for both white schools and black schools, and this story revolves around t
Jan 21, 2012 gina rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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Mary Helen Stefaniak is the prize-winning author of The Turk and My Mother, Self Storage and Other Stories, and The Cailiffs of Baghdad, Georgia. She lives in Omaha and Iowa City.
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