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

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4.12 of 5 stars 4.12  ·  rating details  ·  1,015 ratings  ·  233 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 and humble peddlers who dwelt in harmony with their Muslim and Christian neighbors in the mountains of northern Iraq. To these de...more
Hardcover, 332 pages
Published September 16th 2008 by Algonquin Books (first published August 21st 2008)
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Colleen
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...more
Petra X
This book is a gem. I turn each page feeling slightly elated. I want to save it and not read it quickly but I can't resist just a few more pages at a time. What its about is the Sabar family, the father is a professor in UCLA but spent his early years on a tiny river island in Kurdistan, the same river with the exact same name as mentioned in the bible as when the Jews went out to Mesopotamia (Iraq) 2,700 years ago and where they still spoke Aramaic which was, for a thousand years, the lingua fr...more
Lilisa
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
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...more
Michelle
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
Judy
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...more
Gloria
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
Karen
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...more
AnnaMay
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...more
Kathy
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...more
Vicky
This book was recommended to me by one of my customers and I was not sure if I want to read it at all. I am glad that I did. It is not an ordinary biography; this book is a window into the world that does not exist anymore. Imagine a "Lost tribe of Israel" left to live peacefully in the midst of an Arab world. Imagine people who were so cut from the modern world that they spoke the Ancient Aramaic in the 20th century, while scholars pronounced this language dead for hundreds of years. It was the...more
Diane
About 2,700 years ago a group of Jewish people were forced to leave Israel. They settled in Kurdistan, in a town named Zakho. They were isolated from other Jewish people who gradually began speaking their conquer's languange--Arabic mostly. But the people in Zakho kept the language spoken by Jesus, Aramaic. When the Jewish state was created, Saddam Hussien's government started persecuting the Jews in Iraq. All 120,000 Zakho Jews were forced to leave their small town and move to Israel, with the...more
Chrissie
Finished - wow! What can I say? I guess first of all I want to (((HUG))) GR fro 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 endup, 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 op...more
Richard
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...more
Carl Brush
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...more
K
Feb 18, 2010 K rated it 4 of 5 stars
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
Jeffrey
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Laura Simon
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.
Catharine E
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.
Bobby Title
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...more
Kristin
One of the best books I have ever read. Recommended to anyone & everyone!
Defneandac

Baştan uyarayım. Türkçe çevirisi çok kötü. Hikaye ise çok enteresan. Kürdistan'da Yahudilerin yaşadığını bilmiyordum. İsa'nın dili olarak bilinen ve Akad-Asur zamanında Ortadoğu'nın en yaygın dili olan Aramice'yi konuştuklarını ise hiç bilmiyordum. Kitap bir Kürdistan Yahudisi olan Yona'nın İsrail ve ABD macerasını anlatıyor. Çocukluğunun cenneti Zaho'yu sonsuza dek kaybeden Yona'nın öyküsü aslında şu an savaş batağındaki Ortadoğu'nun öyküsü. Çeviri de iyi olsaydı tadından yenmezdi.

Şu an için s...more
Jamie Elliott
Over a lifetime Ariel Sabar’s father has traveled from a remote enclave of ancient Judaism in Kurdistan to the shanty towns of burgeoning Israel and finally to the coasts of America. Along the way he has played a seminal part in preserving the dying language of his people, Aramaic. In typical American teenage fashion, Ariel rejects his father and his father’s history in his attempt to assimilate into Southern California youth culture. Later, as an adult greeting his own newborn son into the worl...more
Jim Leffert
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
Violet Crush
I read the first 100 pages of this book and then I misplaced it. I was very disappointed as I was really into it. And then after some time I found it again. It had slipped underneath my bed from the tiny space between the bed and the wall. When I started reading it again from the point I left, I couldn’t follow the story, so I thought I would skim the first 100 pages again. But I ended reading them instead of skimming. And I’m so glad I did. I understood the book so much better because of that....more
Ron
Though I enjoyed this book, I kept wanting to give it only 4 stars for the earlier sections in which Sabar writes accounts of his grandparents' and his father's lives in Iraq and Israel. He treats them as if they were characters in a novel, recording their thoughts and conversations - in English, not their native Aramaic - like an omniscient author. There was a breezy Sunday supplement style to all this that rang wrong for me.

But by the mid-point, as the author himself appears as a character in...more
Gilahk
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
Lynn Dolven
My book club is back on track! This book is a fascinating look at the assimilation of an immigrant, the author's father, Yona Sabar, first as a Kurdish Jew immigrating to Israel in 1951 and then immigrating to America as a graduate student at Yale in 1967. Because Kurdish Jews were not valued among the European Jews who immigrated to Israel, Yona Sabar changed his last name to Sabar so that his connection to Kurdistan was not as apparent. Yona Sabar became a US citizen in 1976 and became a renow...more
Sue
Ariel's parents and grandparents were Jews who lived in Zakho, a remote village in Kurdish Iraq (on the border near Turkey) which continued to speak Aramaic instead of the languages of the surrounding regions. Ariel's father was 12 when the family immigrated to Israel, believing for a better life. But they continued to struggle as Israel wasn't prepared for the influx of immigrants in the 1950's. His father devoted himself to school and ultimately received a scholarship to come to the US and st...more
Diane Lybbert
Ariel Sabar, a journalist, goes back to research his grandfather's history in Kurdish Iraq. His grandfather had been born into a group of Jews from the Biblical diaspora, who lived and worked as a minority ethnic group, one of the few who still spoke Aramaic. They moved to Israel after the creation of the Jewish state in the 1950s and sought to assimilate. Ariel's father grew up speaking Aramaic and ended up getting full scholarship in the US to study and go on to teach at the university level c...more
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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 third book, The Outsider (2014), is a Kindle Single. His writing has appeared in the New Yor...more
More about Ariel Sabar...
Heart of the City: Nine Stories of Love and Serendipity on the Streets of New York The Outsider: The Life and Times of Roger Barker (Kindle Single)

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“Each time a language dies, another flame goes out, another sound goes silent.” 4 likes
“You have certain hopes,” he began, the subject making him visibly uncomfortable. “You do this as a nostalgic trip, and nostalgia is you feel like you will see a place again. And when you see nothing is left, it’s in a way a comment on life itself. You see that life doesn’t stand still. Nothing waits for you to visit it again. The river keeps flowing. It may be smaller. But still it flows. And with it your life flows by. This is what life basically is.” 0 likes
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