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

4.13  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,441 Ratings  ·  270 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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Feb 27, 2015 Chrissie rated it it was amazing
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
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
Oct 22, 2008 Colleen rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 31, 2009 Judy rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 29, 2009 Michelle rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 05, 2014 Lilisa rated it really liked it
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
Feb 18, 2010 K rated it really liked it
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
Mar 28, 2009 Gloria rated it really liked it
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
Oct 01, 2008 Karen rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 25, 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.
Oct 21, 2015 Brina rated it it was amazing
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.
Nov 17, 2009 AnnaMay rated it really liked it
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
Sep 01, 2009 Kathy rated it really liked it
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 16, 2009 Vicky rated it liked it
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
Dec 03, 2008 Diane rated it really liked it
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
Aug 29, 2009 Richard rated it really liked it
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
Carl R.
May 09, 2012 Carl R. rated it it was amazing
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
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Laura Simon
Feb 28, 2014 Laura Simon rated it it was amazing
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.
Mar 02, 2015 Minette rated it it was amazing
My Father's Paradise by Ariel Sabar is a very emotional, touching and informative read. It is a captivating book about the history of Kurdish Jews and the impact that immigration has on individuals and families as they adapt in their new lands. The chapters are interspersed with background history and the story of Yona Sabar who is a Kurdish Jew who grew up in Zakho, a town he thinks of as his paradise. In 1950, shortly before the Iraqi Jews were allowed to renounce their citizenship and emigrat ...more
Gayle Francis Moffet
Apr 08, 2016 Gayle Francis Moffet rated it it was amazing
Ariel Sabar did something special here. Plenty of people have written the stories of their parents, but Sabar came at it from the angle of a son trying to apologize to a father for being an asshole pretty much his whole life. His father, a highly respected and dedicated professor of Neo-Aramaic, came to the states for graduate studies after a life in Israel and before that, a life in a tiny Kurdish village called Zhako. Ariel tracks his father's entire journey, explaining along the way the relev ...more
Catharine E
Feb 11, 2013 Catharine E rated it really liked it
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.
Aug 04, 2015 Laura rated it really liked it
I knew nothing about this book prior to reading it. I kept seeing it on my library's shelf in the back section. Someone had it put it on a disply shelf to encourage readers. My first thought was that my late father would have, or perhaps had, read this book. We both have had a long fascination with the Kurds, being the descendents of Armenians from eastern Turkey. Finally, I took it out but delayed reading it. Did I really want to read another memoir? This one is well worth reading. (4.5 stars). ...more
Aug 07, 2015 Alice rated it liked it
I wanted to love this book, and I'm not sure why I didn't. But, even with that reservation, the book is a fascinating look into a subject I knew nothing about: Kurdish Jews in Iraq. The author's provides an in-depth study of his father's village, Zakho, its culture and history. In the final chapters of the book, he brings us up to date as we travel with him at first with his father and then on his own to current-day Zakho. The book focuses primarily on Sabar's father's journey from Zakho to Isra ...more
Sheri Struk
Jan 14, 2016 Sheri Struk rated it liked it
I wasn't so sure I liked this book when I first started it, but it got better as I continued on through it. The author, an American Jew, has his first child and this prompts something in him to begin learning about his past. Ariel Sabar's father is a successful professor at UCLA whose specialty is Aramaic, the language of Jesus and a language about to be part of the world's past. Through interviews with his father and trips to the Middle East, Sabar learns about his father's culture and events t ...more
One of the best books I have ever read. Recommended to anyone & everyone!
May 14, 2015 Susan rated it it was amazing
I connected with My Father's Paradise. It is a wonderful read. It tells the story of the past meets modern day. Yona's son, Ariel searching for his father's Jewish roots in Zakho( Kurdistan) Iraq.

For years Ariel didn't understand his father. He thought of his father stuck in the past. While, he Ariel was a modern teenager in L.A. He wanted to fit in, and be like all the American teens. He wanted to wear the same clothes, the same music, etc. He wanted he's father to be like all the other parents
Aug 05, 2014 Defneandac rated it liked it

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
Jamie Elliott
Oct 23, 2009 Jamie Elliott rated it really liked it
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
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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
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“Each time a language dies, another flame goes out, another sound goes silent.” 6 likes
“If you knew which levers to pull, you could stop time just long enough to save the things you love most.” 0 likes
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