November 5th, 2010
It is the 1930s and the town of Threestep, Georgia, has a new teacher in their one-room schoolhouse, and 11-year-old Gladys Cailiff thinks she’s the best thing ever to happen to their town. Not everyone agrees, however, Miss Spivey being a somewhat unconventional woman in that time and place. She smokes, wears hiking boots, has traveled all over the world, and knows how to drive. But her true passion is the Middle East and all its culture, language, and literature. Slowly but surely, she begins to introduce her students to Baghdad and the Thousand and One Nights. When she hits on the idea of transforming Threestep into Baghdad and throwing a “Baghdad Bazaar,” she begins to get into some real trouble. One other way that Miss Spivey is unconventional is that she believes wholeheartedly in desegregation and she enlists the assistance of a brilliant polymath neighbor of Gladys—who happens to be a young African American boy named Theo—in building her sets and contraptions for a performance from the Thousand and One Nights during the Baghdad Bazaar. For some of the more conservative townsfolk, that is the last straw and they make their own, darker, plans for the night of the Bazaar.
Rich with historical detail—both of a small town in the American South and of the ancient Middle East—this novel is wide-ranging and charming. Some of the best portions deal with the complicated backstory of a camel driver enlisted for the Bazaar and are told in a very Scheherazade-style nested format, with one story leading into another until finally the readers are swept miles and centuries away. Though set in a slightly different time and place, this should also appeal to fans of Kathryn Stockett’s “The Help.”
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