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

My Father's Paradise by Ariel Sabar
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Feb 18, 10

bookshelves: bookclub, memoirs, jewish, culturalidentity
Recommended 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 in Israel in the 1950s, plus a bit of background about the advent of Neo-Aramaic as a recognized language for study.

This book was something of a slow starter for me, especially since I wasn't crazy about Ariel's efforts to reconstruct his family's early history in narrative form by fleshing out anecdotes with imagined and sometimes stilted dialogue. Gradually, though, I became fascinated with the story of Yona's rise as the young son of impoverished and uneducated Kurdish parents who never quite learned the ropes in Israel, becoming a Yale graduate and renowned academic. Ariel's journalistic skills are evident in this book -- it is clearly the product of numerous interviews and extensive investigation but the tone remains readable and engaging, never heavy. Ariel also displays admirable honesty as he describes the rebellious attitude he displayed toward his immigrant father as an aggressively American California teen, and how this attitude was eventually transformed to one of closeness and respect.

This is a book I probably would not have picked up had it not been for my book club, but I'm glad I did. Like
The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit: My Family's Exodus from Old Cairo to the New World, it exposed me to an unfamiliar Jewish community and was a touching story of immigration, trying to reinvent oneself in a new culture, and the complicated relationships within a family. Ariel doesn't shy away from complexity; he shares some choices that his father and his family had to make that might be difficult for 21st century readers to understand, and does so in a sympathetic and respectful way. If the topic interests you at all, I definitely recommend this book.
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