Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo

Questioning God: Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo College

Rajiv Joseph’s characters in Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo wander through the war-torn Iraqi landscape looking for answers and finding none. The characters span a wide range of humanity: from young, ignorant American soldiers to a former gardener now employed as an interpreter for the occupying army to the ghost of Saddam Hussein’s son, Uday. The title character is Tiger, but there is nothing feline about him. He walks upright, wears clothes, and pontificates philosophically. As characters die in this allegorical tale, their ghosts remain and continue to interact. Joseph draws from current events and relies heavily on literary allusion to ask the existential question: Where is God?

Joseph’s impetus for Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo was the real-life shooting of Mamdouh, a Bengal tiger in an Iraqi zoo. At an alcohol-laden party, an intoxicated American soldier attempted to share his food with Mamdouh, who – being a tiger – mauled the soldier’s arm. The soldier’s companion shot Mamdouh in retaliation. The United States presented the zoo with two rare Bengal tigers and $23,000 compensation, but zookeepers still mourned the loss of an animal they loved, an animal born and raised at the zoo.

Joseph’s Tiger was not reared in the...

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