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Searching for Zion: The Quest for Home in the African Diaspora

3.87  ·  Rating details ·  245 ratings  ·  36 reviews
A decade in the making, Emily Raboteau’s Searching for Zion takes readers around the world on an unexpected adventure of faith. Both one woman’s quest for a place to call “home” and an investigation into a people’s search for the Promised Land, this landmark work of creative nonfiction is a trenchant inquiry into contemporary and historical ethnic displacement.

At the age o
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published January 1st 2013 by Atlantic Monthly Press Grove/Atlantic, Inc. - Grove/Atlantic, Inc. - Atlantic Monthly Press
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3.87  · 
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 ·  245 ratings  ·  36 reviews

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Nov 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Searching for Zion by Emily Raboteau is a soul-bearing contemplative journey seeking an answer to the question – “So, where is my home?” Growing up in the privileged environment of Princeton, New Jersey where her father was a professor specializing in antebellum African-American Christianity, Emily was aware she was different. Finding kinship with another girl, Tamar, who was also different as her father was a professor in medieval Jewish history, the girls learned and bonded around their connec ...more
Nov 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Excellent Modern Black Religious History

Emily, whose mother was white and her father black, and her best childhood friend, white Tamar Cohen, lived in their own little worlds, Emily being raised as a Catholic and Tamar as a Jew. Emily’s father was Henry W. Putnam, Professor of Religious History at Princeton teaching antebellum African American Christianity and Tamar’s father was a Professor of Religious History teaching medieval Jewish History. Both girls remained apart from others, enjoying eac
Dec 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Envoys will come out of Egypt; Ethiopia will quickly stretch out her hands to God. Psalm 68:31 (NASB)

“I inhaled, knowing he was right as soon as he said it. At its root, my quest wasn’t about identity. It was about faith.” (Page 76)

Emily Raboteau’s newest work, Searching for Zion: The Quest for Home in the African Diaspora, is truly a book about the quest for home. It is a raw, angry, hopeful, and frustrated journey that takes the author on a journey to parts of Israel and Jamaica that tourists
Mar 23, 2013 rated it really liked it
Emily Raboteau takes us on a journey that we all need to take if we care about tolerance, diversity, the world, humankind. She illuminates a subject that is present in so many minds: where is home for the displaced? Zion captures the imagination of multitudes: from the Jews, to Christians, to blacks, to native peoples of every continent. It is the place of belonging, where we can feel at home in our skin, our beliefs, our speech, our rhythms. Zion to me is nature; my mind was captured by Utah’s ...more
Apr 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book was really interesting. I didn't really like or dislike it, but it tackled some topics that were new to me in a manner that was also quite fascinating to read. I appreciated the opportunity to have my eyes opened to new ways of thinking.
Feb 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: bio-memoir
I took a lot of notes while reading this book, which is always a good sign to me. Raboteau includes a ton of interesting research about the Black Israelites, Rastas, Haile Selassie, Ethiopia, etc. The book itself is a solid read. Like most memoirs, it slows down in some places that make the reader want to flip ahead, but overall, it has a good pace and Raboteau is an engaging storyteller.
Apr 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This fascinating and powerful memoir took me to places I didn't know I wanted to go and considered questions I didn't know I had. When author Emily Raboteau visits her lifelong best friend at her new home in Israel it sets Raboteau off on a ten year quest to find a homeland of her own. With a black father and white mother giving her an appearance that made it difficult for people to classify her, Raboteau often had the sense that she didn't fit in anywhere. She became intrigued with the idea of ...more
Jan 05, 2013 rated it liked it
This book is a combination of a travel journal and a memoir. For the most part, I think it works well, because she uses conversations to tell her story. Where I think it falls short, is when she is expressing her displeasure for some place or thing. I know she was attempting to be humorous, but it often comes across as mean. She says of a Rasta pioneer gathering in Ethiopia, "at that moment they looked to me liked an ancient order of Smurfs." There are other passages like this, and I find them s ...more
Aug 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
This was really interesting because it wasn’t all memoir, but more of an anthropological journey through the diaspora. Raboteau’s voice is so confident (the airport scene had me legit worried about her). I don’t think I’ve ever learned so much, factually, while reading about someone else’s journey.
Bridgett Davis
Mar 30, 2013 rated it really liked it
Wonderful combination of travelogue, social history and memoir.
Keri Day
Mar 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This book was excellent and inspirational. It provided a much needed investigation into ideas of identity, belonging, and ultimately salvation. This book is a must read.
May 04, 2013 rated it really liked it
I appreciated Searching for Zion for its subject--"The Quest for Home in the African Diaspora," as the subtitle reads--and for its breadth in covering that subject. Raboteau, the U.S. daughter of black professor and a white mother, travels to Israel, Jamaica, Ethiopia, and Ghana to talk with members of the African diaspora who have physically relocated in an attempt to "return" to their spiritual and/or ethnic homeland. Raboteau also visits southern U.S. cities that were important in the Civil R ...more
Full Disclosure: I received this book as an ARC from the Amazon Vine program in exchange for a review, and this review also can be found on Amazon.

Searching for Zion was first excerpted in The Believer, which published the chapter titled: "Points to Ponder when Considering Repatriating Home", which stirred my interest in Raboteau's larger work.

Ten-years in the making, Searching for Zion could be catagorized as a personal memoir, a family memoir, a travel memoir, a work of history and a study i
Feb 16, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It’s a perilous thing to write a review so soon after finishing a book, but I shall try. First -- Why does the book exist? The writer begins with a humiliating search by security at Israel’s airport by personnel who are confused by her heritage. She is light-skinned, considers herself black and has what they fear is an Arab middle name. She’s in search of Zion.

After this intro, we are introduced to her upbringing. She is the child of an African-american professor and a white mother who is unfort
Apr 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography-memoir
A Memorable Searching for the Promised Land, Zion

In a literary style more reminiscent of Paul Theroux than Frank McCourt, Emily Raboteau takes readers in “Searching for Zion: The Quest for Home in the African Diaspora” on a decade-long journey she undertook in searching for the Promised Land, Zion, after a brief visit to the Jewish Zion, Israel, compels her to begin her quest for a Zion, a “home” that is the desired goal of various black communities she encounters in the United States, Jamaica,
As I've probably mentioned before, I used to manage a couple of Black bookstores back in the day. And besides being able to do my favorite thing, talk about books all day long, I also learned so much about Black history, African history, and the many cultures within the African diaspora. I came to meet Rastafarians, Hebrew Israelites, Muslims and felt my world become bigger because of it.

Raboteau, the biracial daughter of a Princeton professor of religion, grew up hearing about the concept of "
At age 23 Emily Roboteau flew to Israel to visit a friend and found herself interrogated by Israeli agents at the airport and strip searched apparently because they believed she was Arab. Emily's parents are African-American and White and apparently her middle name is Arabic which she never knew. The name came from her father's side of the family. After that experience and meeting a group of Ethiopian Jews, she started thinking of people who are searching for a Zion or a promised land. Where do ...more
Nicole Kear
Jan 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing
In Searching for Zion, Emily Raboteau, a bi=racial American writer, spends a decade, from the age of 23, on an odyssey in pursuit of the promised land, an odyssey which takes her to Ghana, Israel, Ethiopia and the American South and which brings her alongside many different pilgrims on the same journey, from the African Hebrew Israelites to the Rastafarians. In the end, she finds that a sense of home is much more elusive than she'd initially imagined, not just for her bur for the pilgrims she me ...more
Mar 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Reading this book hit the mark on so many levels. It provides deep insight into the life of "others", as well as "whites" and "blacks". Emily has clearly chosen a side in the race game, one she didn't have to, many others would have taken a different approach, to pass for anyone other than those who have been relegated to the bottom rung in so many societies.

I see her search for identity as much about a search for her father who was lost to her during much of her childhood, as it is about belon
Douglas Castagna
Oct 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Searching. Rarely have I read a book where I took notes. I rarely did that through college and grad school. Which may explain my grades. Seriously, this book was just that full of information, much of which was new to me and I wanted to verify from other sources. Raboteau is very informed, whether that is from her life in general, or from culling information from other sources, she is a font of information. She brings this all together and enriches this "travelogue" of a memoir to make it a woma ...more
Jul 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing
An award winner - and beautifully written. Emily's personal account of her searching for home and the comfort of belonging. She has a white, Irish-American mother and a black African-American father. It is history in its most interesting form, a personal accounting as it has affected her and displaced families around the world. It is current events with music and people struggling with the need to belong. The reader travels with Emily to Africa and discovers history with her and from her point o ...more
Kimberly McCreight
Mar 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Searching for Zion is a stirring combination of memoir, travelogue and cultural history. The writing is lyrical, always candid and so very, very smart. I was immediately swept up by the narrative and came away feeling genuinely enriched, as though I had personally enjoyed many of Ms. Raboteau's varied cultural adventures. The descriptions of her far flung international destinations are gorgeous and the questions thought provoking. Though Ms. Raboteau's search is unique, the questions she asks ar ...more
Lisa Feld
Jan 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Raboteau's quest to define her concept of home as a biracial woman is powerful, beautifully written, and alive with detail. Her descriptions of life in Israel, Jamaica, and the American South are by turns funny and painful, but always vivid. And she deftly manages two challenges that most memoirists have real trouble with: she is honest and open, even when showing herself in an unflattering light, and she moves beyond her own story to bring us into the lives of the people she meets along the way ...more
Jessica Leight
Feb 16, 2014 rated it liked it
This book was surprisingly disappointing. The story of the African-American search for Zion seems to be an interesting one, but the book is heavy on anecdotes that are hard to fit together. It is often challenging to understand the motivations of both the protagonist and author and those she interacts with. More historical context would be useful, as would a tighter structure and a clearer sense of what the objective of the journey chronicled in this book is.
Priya Mukhopadhyay
May 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Contemplative and addressing a universal question of 'finding home', Raboteau's latest is an awe-inspiring piece of work that deserves the attention it is receiving. Check it: it's one of the year's must reads in several 'Books of the Year' lists as well. Such as this one!
Mar 15, 2013 rated it really liked it
Good read. There were so much times when I just laughed and laughed, some things she said really hit home:P Although my parents are both from Ghana and came to Canada on their own, I definately feel the confusion and struggle that Mrs. Raboteau felt as one living in the African Diaspora searching for "home" and "Zion." Well done Mrs. Raboteau!
Jan 12, 2013 rated it it was ok
“It’s such a ridiculous cliché,” Emily Raboteau complains to a friend at one point. “The tragic mulatto whining about not belonging. I don’t want to be that person. That’s not who I am.” That said, this is ultimately the identity she assumes for the purposes of the book.
Jun 09, 2015 marked it as to-read
Recommendation: Enjoyed Emily Raboteau's short story, "Kavita Through Glass" in The Best American Short Stories 2003.
Nov 23, 2014 rated it liked it
Interesting book, but drags on. Starts out exploring black Jewish community in Israel then explores Rastafarians, and moves on in various directions from there.
Vernetta Norman
Dec 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This is a great read; I enjoyed this journey!
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Q&A with Emily Ra...: Welcome! 8 14 Feb 21, 2013 07:55AM  

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Emily Raboteau is an avid world traveler and professor at City College, in Harlem. She lives in New York with her husband, the novelist Victor LaValle, and their children. Her stories and essays have been widely published and anthologized in places such as The New Yorker, The Believer, The Guardian, The Oxford American, Guernica, McSweeney's, Tin House, Best American Nonrequired Reading and Best A ...more