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My Father's Paradise: A Son's Search for His Jewish Past in Kurdish Iraq

4.14  ·  Rating Details ·  1,622 Ratings  ·  288 Reviews
"In a remote corner of the world, forgotten for nearly three thousand years, lived an enclave of Kurdish Jews so isolated that they still spoke Aramaic, the language of Jesus. Mostly illiterate, they were self-made mystics and gifted storytellers, humble peddlers and rugged loggers who dwelt in harmony with their Muslim and Christian neighbors in the mountains of northern ...more
Kindle Edition
Published (first published August 21st 2008)
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Petra Eggs
This book is a gem. I turned each page feeling slightly elated.

The author's father, the subject of the book is a professor in UCLA. He spent his early years on a tiny river island in Kurdistan. This river is mentioned in the Bible as when the Jews went out to Mesopotamia (Iraq) 2,700 years ago. The lingua franca of the Middle East for a thousand years was Aramaic. This is a milennia before the Arabs conquered it and imposed Arabic, a daughter language of Aramaic itself. Aramaic still lives in li
Finished - wow! What can I say? I guess first of all I want to (((HUG))) GR for existing, for showing me all these MARVELOUS books!!!! OK, about the book. Well, how does the relationship between father and son(author) end up. It ends up right where I wanted it to end up, but you will have to read the book to find this out! It is summed up in the first three sentences on page 322 in the last chapter. Here is one last interesting quote: "There is a counterpoint to the familiar immigrant story of o ...more
Jun 24, 2009 Michelle rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wow. I really had my expectations exceeded with this one, yet it is hard to describe. Story of Kurdish Jews? (I didn't even know there WERE Kurdish Jews.) Story of the demise of Aramaic? I didn't know anyone still spoke it. Story of a man who immigrated from Kurdish Iraq to Jerusalem to New Haven to LA? Story of a son coming to terms with a father he had never understood? Story of keeping roots in a different land? Maybe all of these things. This haunting part-journalism, part novel, part memoir ...more
Oct 07, 2015 Brina rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: jewish-books
Read about 4 years ago. Not fresh in mind but was a gem of a book. The vast majority of us Jews only use Aramaic in prayer. The Sabars spoke Aramaic as their mother tongue. This is their amazing story.
Kathy (Bermudaonion)
My Father’s Paradise: A Son’s Search for His Jewish Past in Kurdish Iraq, written by Ariel Sabar and published by Algonquin Press is actually the story of three journeys.

Yona’s (Ariel’s father) journey is told first. His starts his journey as a young Jewish boy in a small village in Kurdish Iraq. From there, his journey continues to Israel and it finally ends in the United States. Yona is a humble man, who believes in the value of mankind. He treasures his family and is passionate about preservi
Jan 31, 2009 Judy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If you are an American Jew, the offspring of immigrants, a linguist, a student of the Mideast crisis, or an ex-teen who's finally dropped the attitude, you should read this book. And if I'm not mistaken, that would be all of us.

I've scarcely considered the plight of the Sephardic Jews of Western Asia much less the disposition of the Lost Tribes of Israel. Nor pondered the enormity of forced exile and the task of assimilating these uprooted peoples in America or Israel. Never knew the painstaking
Sep 29, 2008 Colleen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed, non-fiction
Though Ariel Sabar may regret that his relationship with his father was so contentious, readers have cause to rejoice because that fractured relationship led Sabar to pen this elegant tale of his father's life and language.

Yona Sabar, a Jewish Kurd, grew up speaking Aramaic, an ancient language now all but lost. He is also a celebrated linguist who has worked tirelessly to document his language before it dies. This book traces that effort, weaving a colorful tapestry of Jewish life in Iraq, Kurd
The Lost Tribe Loses the Plot

A moving story, as so often the case, of Jews dispossessed and exiled. In this instance from the remote region of Kurdish Iraq. There is no question that this story of personal travail is worth telling and worth reading. Among other things, it is a story which provides essential background for the recent rise of Islamic State and its persecution of Kurdish Christians in a re-play of what the Iraqi government did to the Kurdish Jews almost seven decades ago.

But Sabar
Feb 13, 2010 K rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans of "The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit"; anyone with even a passing interest in Kurdish Jews
"My Father's Paradise" describes the life and family background of Yona Sabar, the author's father. Yona was born in Zakho, Kurdistan; moved to Israel with his family at the age of twelve; and left for America in his twenties where he became an important scholar of the Neo-Aramaic language. Ariel Sabar's carefully researched book, while focusing essentially on Yona's story, also includes some interesting information about the history of the Kurdish Jews in Zakho and their ignominious reception i ...more
A son’s quest for his father’s beginnings and his Jewish heritage takes us back to Kurdish Iraq and the town of Zakho where Jews, Muslims and Christians lived in harmony decades ago and where the ancient language of Aramaic was spoken. Amidst the Middle East conflicts following World War II, Zakho Jews were airlifted to Israel, exposing them to the challenges that the new state of Israel was faced with – making arrangements to house, feed and deal with the thousands of Jews streaming in from all ...more
Sep 01, 2009 Kathy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An excellent, award winning biography from a California raised man trying to better understand his father's journey from Kurdistan to Jerusalem to the United States.

Tucked on an island in the river, cut off from the other tribes of Judaism, lived a small but thriving community of Kurdish Jews. Now a part of Iraq, the island town of Zakho found Arabs and Jews living peacefully together, speaking the ancient tongue of Aramaic, until the Jews were forced out of Iraq in the 1950s. Israel absorbed h
Nov 17, 2009 AnnaMay rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fantastic book. Sabar is a GOOD writer.

I was surprised at how enjoyable this book was and easy to read (once I got into it...the first 15 pages or so). I had selected it as one of my 'grow my brain' books to read inbetween my fun reads.

What a pleasant surprise. Before reading this, I can't say I knew what a Kurdish Jew was, really, and how one differred from European Jews I'd read about. I didn't have an understanding of Israel/Palestine/Iraq and their relationship with one another, other than k
Oct 01, 2008 Karen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed learning the history but really savored the personal story that parallels the history. This is a good discussion book to talk abt: 1) child / parent relationships 2) passing culture / traditions down through generations 3) how perceptions of one’s own culture changes through his/her life 5) integration of faiths, 6) integration of people with the same faith but from different areas, among others.

What an interesting story of how the language persisted bc the Kurds became isolated, then
Mar 17, 2015 Ghaliya rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
This book combines my cravings in a book; an earnest to know your parent as a person, a place that is part of Iraq (politically the least), Judaism and looking back.
Also, after reading few books (such as this) written by authors who are also journalists I am realizing they contain the perfect balance of literary embellishments and storytelling.
Katz Nancy from NJ
An interesting book which focuses on Jews who lived in Kurdistan, a part of Iraq. The author yearning to know more about his father, researches his families lives from Kurdistan to Israel and then the United States. The Kurds are a unique group of Jews who spoke Aramaic while others around them spoke Arabic. They dressed differently than other Iraqis but also Eastern European Jews. As the author researches this book through 4 generations, he not only learns about his father and other family memb ...more
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Mar 28, 2009 Gloria rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book made the tremendous challenges of Arab-Jew relationshipscome alive as the author tells the story of his family and their roots in Kurdish Iraq. Ariel Sabar, the author, is a journalist and begins exploring his father's story from a reporter's point of view, but soon gets caught up in the family dynamics and emotion. The changing roles of women (and men), the desire of youth to embrace all things modern leaving behind the culture and language of their parents, and the changing political ...more
Catharine E
Jan 31, 2013 Catharine E rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating read. Provides factual, historical information on a group of Kurdish Jews that I had no idea even existed. The author intertwines his own fathers story with the historical content of the history of these people and how they were forced to leave for Israel. I feel a little bit smarter for having read it but now I feel that there is a whole culture out there that deserves to be understood just a little bit more.
J. Boo
Jun 16, 2016 J. Boo marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Journalists tend to be an exceptionally gullible group of people, but Sabar spent a lot of time and effort investigating the "Jesus' Wife" papyrus, and wrote a terrific article exposing it as an undoutable forgery. Putting everything he's got on the too-be-read list.
Laura Simon
Feb 28, 2014 Laura Simon rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Bravo Ariel Sabar! Thank you for memorializing the story of your father and the Jews of Kurdish Iraq. I have a long held fascination with the Jews of Muslim countries. This story was beautifully written and engaging to the last word. I urge others to read this book and enjoy learning about this forgotten, lost community of Jews.
Jul 02, 2012 Marsha rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
A very interesting book about the author's family of Kurdish Jews in Iraq.
Carl R.
May 09, 2012 Carl R. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
My Father’s Paradise is perhaps the first book I’ve read that provides a good argument for changing the term “memoir” to the more trendy “narrative non-fiction.” And it’s a strong argument, for this is much more than a nostalgic look at one man’s past. It is an excavation into a corner of civilization itself.
Ariel Sabar looks for his own roots by searching for his father’s, and his search takes him back nearly three millennia.
After a short introduction of himself as a teen-age L.A. hellion, he n
Sep 19, 2008 Heather rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My Father's Paradise is Ariel Sabar's captivating account of the plight of the Kurdish Jews in Iraq, as well as the story of his family's history. The book shifts from the social and political aspects of the culture and it's struggles to maintain the legacy of it's heritage and language to the tale of how his father, Yona, and his family lived in Zakho, a small town in Kurdish Iraq, and their eventual departure. But instead of being a quaint saga of a family's lineage, it is rather a homage to h ...more
Jim Leffert
Jan 01, 2011 Jim Leffert rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
We have been blessed with many fine books in which the author examines the life of his/her parent or other family members, and by recounting this person’s life, presents both a family story and a window into larger historical and cultural currents. In some respects, the author seeking to uncover truth about the family member is a surrogate for the reader, who embarks on his own voyage of discovery by reading the book. The intertwining of a family story and a larger historical and cultural story ...more
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 schola ...more
Aug 29, 2009 Richard rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This true story can be read on several levels:

On one level , it’s an autobiography, the story of journalist’s Ariel’s attempt at coming to terms with a father he did not understand and did not like as a youth. There is honesty here, and Ariel is willing to portray himself in less than a favorable light. The book, probably initially a search for what his father’s life had been, becomes an attempt not only to reconcile the past and present but also to seek some forgiveness for his adolescent treat
Bobby  Title
Jan 04, 2014 Bobby Title rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Now here is an application of the law of unintended consequences: I learned and understood more about the dispersion of the Jews in ancient history by reading this book than I did from years and years of hearing about it in Sunday School and Church. This isn’t what the author had in mind, but it blows my mind that finally, “I get it” in such a readable package.

I cannot remember where it was that I first read a review of this book, but I know for sure that what caught my eye then was not the anci
Aug 15, 2016 Petra rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ariel Sabar heeft als kind zich een beetje genegeerd voor zijn vader en diens afkomst uiteindelijk heeft hem dit als journalist dit boek laten schrijven over zijn vader en de bijbehorende, dus ook zijn eigen, afkomst. Ieder die dit boek leest hoeft zich volgens mij niet langer te laten overtuigen dat Yona een grote rol heeft ingenomen in het leven van Ariel, als vader. En dat beide mannen ieder op hun manier veel respect voor elkaar en elkaars keuzes hebben. Ariel neemt je mee gedurende het leve ...more
Nov 18, 2013 Gilahk rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have just finished reading this highly personal yet universal book. I would give it 5 stars but I think the first third of the book suffered from the author's attempt to give a lot of historical information, that could have been better organized. The story kept moving around the centuries, back and forth and I found that very confusing. I felt the story really came together when the narrative developed a more linear story-telling of how young Yona struggled to achieve an education and help sup ...more
Natacha Pavlov
May 15, 2013 Natacha Pavlov rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: middle-east, memoir
This book is a very interesting, well-written and moving account centered on a little-known community of Middle Eastern Jews. By sharing the stories of his grandfather and father, as well as part of his own, the author tells of multiple generations of Kurdish Jews native to Zakho, Iraq—a place where Jews, Christians and Muslims had lived peacefully alongside one another for 2700 years. The visual one gets from hearing of an Aramaic-speaking community living semi-isolated from the world amidst it ...more
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2009 Denver Jewish Community Book Pick 1 16 Jun 25, 2009 05:15PM  
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Ariel Sabar won the National Book Critics Circle Award for his debut book, My Father's Paradise: A Son's Search for his Jewish Past in Kurdish Iraq (2008). His second book, Heart of the City (2011), was called a "beguiling romp" (New York Times) and an "engaging, moving and lively read" (Toronto Star). His Kindle Single, The Outsider: The Life and Times of Roger Barker (2014), was a best-selling n ...more
More about Ariel Sabar...

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“Each time a language dies, another flame goes out, another sound goes silent.” 14 likes
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