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My Father's Paradise: A Son's…
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My Father's Paradise: A Son's Search for His Family's Past

by Ariel Sabar

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
3794143,247 (4.3)72
  1. 00
    Burnt Bread & Chutney by Carmit Delman (cransell)
    cransell: A different look at the emigrant experience of a lesser known community of Jews.
  2. 00
    The Lost. A Search for Six of Six Million by Daniel Mendelsohn (labfs39)
    labfs39: Reading My Father’s Paradise brings to mind Daniel Mendelsohn’s book The Lost (published by HarperCollins in 2006). Both books are personal journeys of discovery into their families’ pasts: Sabar’s search for Zakho’s Jews and his father’s past, and Mendelsohn’s search for six members of his family lost in the Holocaust. Both are compelling stories with broad appeal. What is different, however, is Mendelsohn’s inclusion of the impact of each discovery on his own understanding: understanding of himself and his family, on the nature of history and memory, and on the interaction of truth and storytelling.… (more)
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My Father’s Paradise : A Son’s Search for His Jewish Past in Kurdish Iraq - Sabar
4 stars

This is Ariel Sabar’s personal investigation into his family history. It’s an immigrant story, a refugee story. It’s a memoir of a first generation American/Iranian/Kurdish/Israeli/Jewish boy. It’s the story of the drastic economic and social changes inflicted upon a small isolated community during the 20th century. The story is full of political, religious, sociological, and linguistic information. It was fascinating. And, a little overwhelming.

Sabar is a journalist. His book was strongest when he wrote as a journalist. I was confused in the early part of the book with his fictionalized accounts of his ancestors in Zakho. The book wandered from presenting the factual history of Zakho’s location and population. There’s a good historical fiction novel in the story of his great grandparents their offspring. It was just awkward to have it at the beginning of a first person memoir. Sabar’s journalistic style was easier to follow.

I’m very glad to have read this book. In some ways, I learned more than I expected. In other ways, I felt that Sabar’s story had much in common with other first generation Americans, whatever the cultural origins of their ancestors. I was also truly delighted to read that despite being of different generations, different faiths, and different genetic histories, Ariel Sabar and I were (probably) born in the same city. Life is strange. ( )
  msjudy | Jan 31, 2019 |
For three thousand years after they were banished from Israel, a community of Jews lived in an isolated Kurdish region of Northern Iraq. Dirt poor, illiterate and removed from all modern aspects of the world, they lived in relative harmony with their Muslim and Christian neighbours. The author's father, was the last boy Bar Mitzvahed in Zakho, before the tensions created by the Nazis and continued by the creation of the state of Israel forced almost every single Jew living in Iraq to flee during the 1950's.

The author, trying to reconcile with his father, a respected scholar at UCLA, endeavors to learn about the history of this lost tribe, and more specifically, his family. I found the stories about the community, and his family's experiences really fascinating. I was less interested in the author's struggle to overcome his lifelong daddy issues, but many who have read the book loved this aspect as well. ( )
  Rdra1962 | Aug 1, 2018 |
This was very interesting, especially Sabar's fathers history. I found the section about Sabar and his own search less interesting. But I appreciated how honest he was about his relationship to his father and his father's family. ( )
  laurenbufferd | Nov 14, 2016 |
This book tells the story of the author, Ariel Sabar, and his father, Yona. The story begins when Yona is a Jewish boy growing up in Kurdish Iraq in the early twentieth century, a time when the Muslims, Christians, and Jews of the region lived in relative harmony. When religious tensions began to escalate in the Middle East mid-century, teenaged Yona and his family emigrate to Israel, thus forfeiting their Iraqi citizenship. Yona eventually moves to the United States and becomes a leading scholar at UCLA in Aramaic, his native language.

I was really fascinated by the part of the book that took place in Israel. I had never thought much about the difficulties that were encountered as the country’s population grew so quickly with immigrants from so many different regions and nationalities. Yona and his family struggled to make their way in a society dominated by European Jews, facing the stereotypes and prejudices against Kurdish Jews and Middle Eastern Jews in general.

I was very impressed by the Ariel’s personal journey and the way his relationship with his father grew. He spent his teenage years and young adulthood embarrassed by his father, trying to distance himself from his father’s heritage and become a full fledged American. When he has a son of his own, he begins to realize the importance of family legacy, and starts a journey to understand his father’s past. Ariel and Yona travel to Israel and Iraq together to gain insight into the past.

The book was very well balanced between history, politics, and personal narrative. I learned a lot about the history and politics of the time and region. The book is by no means overly political or religious, but there are definitely valuable insights into both. The personal story was very well-written and heartfelt. The author did an excellent job depicting himself, his father and their relationship. I was in tears by the end of the book seeing how their relationship progressed. I debated between four and five stars. I would definitely recommend this book.
( )
  klburnside | Aug 11, 2015 |
A compelling narrative that serves both to illuminate the world and experience of Iraqi Kurdish Jews, and the journey of one particular one (the author's father) from Kurdistan to Israel to Los Angeles, where he becomes an authority on the disappearing language of his boyhood. Ariel Sabar writes clearly and evocatively, whether it's outlining the complicated history of the region or reenacting scenes from his grandparents' and parents' lives. One only wishes that all sons and daughters could do as well with capturing the stories of the generations that came before. ( )
  bostonian71 | Feb 16, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 40 (next | show all)
As long as the focus stays on Yona Sabar, a last of the Mohicans for Kurdish Jews, the book is graceful and resonant. It falters only when the author extends too far beyond this narrative, imagining a bit too colorfully village life in Zakho or obsessively self-analyzing his dissonant relationship with his father. What holds our attention is that last bar mitzvah boy of Zakho, who, by helping to save Aramaic, managed to find a rare equilibrium between past and present. Or, as his son elegantly puts it, he "sublimated homesickness into a career."
 
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Epigraph
I searched to discover which was the first of all languages. Many have said that the Aramaic is most ancient, and that it is in the nature of man to speak it without having been taught by anyone. Further, that if a newborn child were placed in the desert with no one but a mute wet nurse, he would speak Aramaic. -- Abraham Ibn-Ezra, twelfth-century commentator and linguist
Dedication
First words
I am the keeper of my family's stories.
Quotations
Here is what made Aramaic irresistible: It was high-tech. Before it, the closest thing to a Near Eastern lingua franca was Akkadian, which was etched in cuneiform, wedge-shaped characters pressed into clay. Aramaic could be written on papyrus.
"Why can't you just bring what I want?" a farm matron carped one day. .... Instead of guessing at his customers needs, he tried something novel among the peddlers of Zakho: He took advance orders. [p. 49]
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Wikipedia in English (2)

Book description
Yona Sabar is a world expert on neo-Aramaic, an almost dead language, the driver of a Tercel, and his own barber. He is also the product of a lost world, a Jewish enclave in Kurdish Iraq. This book is his story, as told by his son, American journalist, Ariel Sabar. Ariel’s slow-growing appreciation of his father’s accomplishments, and the birth of his own son, leads him on this journey of family exploration which ends where it began, the town of Zakho, in Northern Iraq. Zakho is unique in that its minority population of Jews still speaks Aramaic, the language of Jesus and most of the Middle East until the ascendancy of the Muslims and Arabic, and long-thought to be a dead language. Life in Zakho is paradise for young Yona Beh Sagabha, despite his being a minority in every way: poor, Jewish, Aramaic-speaking, and Kurdish in the center of a predominantly Muslim Iraq. In the wake of WWII, even Zakho is affected by the rise of Zionism, pan-Arabian and anti-Semitic sentiments. In 1951, Yano and his family are part of the mass exodus of Iraqi Jews, and they resettle in Israel.

Life in Israel was difficult for non-European Jews. The population of Israel grew so rapidly that housing and jobs couldn’t keep up with demand. Demoralized and culturally isolated, many of Zakho’s Jews are lost in the Israeli homeland. Yano, however, discovers that being a native speaker of Aramaic is the key to academic opportunity. A scholarship to Yale’s Department of Near Eastern Languages is Yano’s ticket to the ultimate land of opportunity, and eventually to an esteemed professorship at UCLA, but at a cost to his sense of self, family, and community. This is the story of a town, a family, and the relationship between father and son.
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My Father's Paradise is Ariel Sabar's quest to reconcile present and past. As Ariel's father, Yona, travels with him to today's postwar Iraq to find what's left of Yona's birthplace, Ariel brings to life the ancient town of Zakho, telling his family's story and discovering his own role in this sweeping saga. What he finds in the Sephardic Jews' millennia-long survival in Islamic lands is an improbable story of tolerance and hope.… (more)

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