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The Girl from Foreign: A Search for Shipwrecked Ancestors, Forgotten Histories, and a Sense of Home

3.83  ·  Rating details ·  823 Ratings  ·  156 Reviews
A search for shipwrecked ancestors, forgotten histories, and a sense of home

Fascinating and intimate, The Girl from Foreign is one woman's search for ancient family secrets that leads to an adventure in far-off lands. Sadia Shepard, the daughter of a white Protestant from Colorado and a Muslim from Pakistan, was shocked to discover that her grandmother was a descendant of
Hardcover, 364 pages
Published July 31st 2008 by Penguin Press HC, The
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Mar 15, 2009 rated it really liked it
This book got better and better as I got more and more into it. It's a true story of a woman who was born in the United States of a mixed marriage between her Pakistani Muslim mother and her Christian white father. Her grandmother (mother's mother) was born to a Jewish diaspora family in India who married a Pakistani Muslim, converted to Islam, and moved with her husband and his two other wives to Pakistan during the India/Pakistani split in the late 1940s. Her grandmother was an important part ...more
Jul 23, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir, my-reviews
This is a well-written memoir that is very much Sadia Shepard's story. It's her journey and her emotional process regarding her family connection, spirituality and cultural identification. These issues are very complex for her. She has multiple family heritages and religions.

If you wanted to read this book to find out about Bene Israel practices, there is only a small amount of that sort of content. Judging from Sadia's descriptions, I have an impression that the few Bene Israel left in the vil
Aug 12, 2009 rated it liked it
Interesting, but also dry parts. A woman travels to India & Pakistan to try to find her Grandmother's Jewish roots, and find out more about the Jewish community in Mumbai (Bombay). Through the book we learn also, how the author's mom emigrated to the US and married an American Christian.
What was amazing to me, was that there is an indiginous Jewish group of Indians in India! They believe they are descendants of the 12 Lost Tribes of Israel. Their oral heritage tells that they came to India
Aug 03, 2013 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this book. Basically it tells the story of a young, well educated woman from a well-to-do family whose grandmother dies. The grandmother, from India, was Jewish originally and then married a Moslem man with two other wives, and then, with Partition in 1948, moved to Pakistan. The author's mother immigrated to the US, and married a Christian American from Colorado. The book involves the author's search for the Jewish branch of the family, as well as the understanding of how and why the ...more
Jun 03, 2009 rated it liked it
This is such an interesting story. A jewish friend of mine calls me up one day and says have you heard of this story. I said I had not, and she asked me to read it so that we could have a discussion about it afterwards. I'm almost finished and find it very fascinating. Sadia Shepard is searching for something to find meaning in her life. Her grandmother was a Jew from India. That in in itself is what drew me to this book. I don't want to give away too much more, but I definitely recommend this b ...more
penny shima glanz
Aug 01, 2009 rated it really liked it
I found Shepard's memoir of her path to and on her Fulbright year enjoyable. Despite a few books on my shelves of far-flung Jewish Communities such as the Bene Israel, I am sadly mostly ignorant of them. Additionally I have a large hole in my knowledge of "real" Islam. I studied Western Religions at an introductory level in College, but it was very theoretical. I don't know much about many things as they are in the world outside the academic bubble. The portrait Shepard sketches of her identity ...more
Oct 20, 2013 rated it really liked it
This is an excellent memoir written by a woman raised in three religions. Her maternal grandmother was born in India in the Bene Israel Jewish community who were shipwrecked there 2000 years ago. Nana married a Muslim and the family was forced to leave India at the time of the partition. The author' s mother was raised Muslim in Karachi, came to the US for college and married an American Episcopalian. The author was raised by her parents and Nana where she was taught to honor all 3 religions. Af ...more
Lisa James
This book was everything it was said to be, compelling, poignant, a little sad, personal, touching, etc. Sadia's deep love for her grandmother takes her on a journey to discover her multi-cultural family's past after the death of her grandmother. I really give it to her family to be able to combine 3 religions & cultures in their home, & you could feel the love she wrote with in ever word.

This book taught me things I didn't know about both the Bene Israel's Judaism, as well as the Muslim
Dec 28, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I found this book in the Conservative or Reform Jewish magazine. It's a terrific work of non-fiction that is, in itself, a great story. My eldest son said it would make a great movie, and he's right.

The Girl From Foreign is the memoir of Sadia Shepard's search for her grandmother's roots in the Indian Jewish community known as Bene Israel. Not only does Ms. Shepard find her grandmother's essence, she discovers her true self in the process.
Jun 01, 2015 rated it really liked it
Getting to talk to Sadia about this book more than a decade after she wrote it was all the more interesting-- it put an older woman in conversation with the young woman Sadia was when she made this trip to India. Hers is a very rich personal history which she honors in such a heart-warming fashion.
Feb 16, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Excellent true story written by a girl who was raised with three religions, but went to India to find the diminishing community of the Bene Israels to learn about the Jewish community that was originally her grandmother's.
Nov 01, 2008 rated it liked it
Well written but would rather have seen the documentary about the Bene Israel including a portion on those who have emigrated to Israel. For those who like the memoir form. . . . .
Jan 26, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I love this story of a women researching her grandmother's Jewish roots in India and Pakistan.
Jan 19, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: memoirs, nonfiction
Like The Latehomecomer, this is a book about the immigrant experience that is also about how important a grandmother can be to a young girl searching for her identity.

One of these days I will be on a plane to a miniscule village in the Italian Piedmont, looking for my own grandmother's heritage, longing to be back in her bed listening to the cicadas as she draws letters on my back.

The old cliche about families is that you want to give your children both roots and wings. The huge recent surge i
Jan 18, 2018 rated it liked it
This was such an unexpected story. I understand why Shepard felt compelled to tell it: what a life her grandmother had! Her love for her grandmother is so poignant and her journey really gives you that sense of being abroad with Shepard in India. I get that she's inspired by Sebald, but she doesn't totally pull the Austerlitz style off: some of the writing comes across as flat. At the same time, I found myself poring over the pictures of her family as well as the photographs of the synagogues an ...more
Karenbike Patterson
Sep 28, 2017 rated it it was ok
This ho hum memoir takes a young woman with a Fullbright to India to find her Grandmother's Jewish ancestors. Shepard visits synagogues and meets long ago acquaintances in Pune and Bombay. She tries to decide which religions is she: Jewish (maternal grandmother), Muslim (maternal grandfather and mother), Christian, father.
Feb 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
An intriguing journey of discovery into the Bene Israel - Jews of India. I didn't know these people existed, and the author's discovery that her grandmother was one of these Jews makes for an interesting book, written from the viewpoint of a woman who was raised as a Muslim.
Natalie Oshins
Woman finds grandmothers secret past

I enjoyed the story, especially the travels through PaKistan and India. The writing needed more editing to reduce the repitition and slow flow. I had to force myself to finish the book.
Alan Shaw
Dec 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is a beautifully well written book with an intriguing storyline. Ms. Shepard engrossed me from beginning to end and her sense of wonder and bewilderment and joy and doubt come across most movingly. Highly recommended.
Jessica Feinstein
Really enjoyed this.
Ali Elenbaas
Feb 12, 2018 rated it it was ok
I could not get through this book but I powered through. I had such high hopes for it but it was disappointing. I really thought that the story of a woman born to a Muslim Indian mother and Christian American father, researching her grandmother's heritage as a part of a Jewish family in the small Jewish community in India would be so interesting. However, I really was just left wondering what the point of the book was besides the author chronicling her pursuit to figure out who she is.
My friend Toni Countryman made a good point that Shepard writes like the filmmaker she is, in the sense that she keeps a distance between herself and her subjects which results in a somewhat superficial skimming, as if her camera were unable to look into the souls of her characters, including herself. That's my main complaint with the book as well, that it lacks a certain depth, both in the author's unwillingness or inability (?) to ask herself the tough questions and explore them, and in her re ...more
Nov 02, 2013 rated it it was ok
There are many interesting elements in this memoir about a Jewish Indian family that migrates to Karachi after partition (because the matriarch married a Muslim man with two other wives already located there) and the granddaughter whose quest is about her discovery of her family's Jewish Indian history. But for a story that predicates itself on asking questions and seeking answers I'm quite disappointed that this book never once asked quite a crucial question: why have so many Jewish Indians cho ...more
Daughters Of Abraham
This book lead to very lively discussion. It has local Massachusetts roots. It is of Muslim and Jewish content. Her maternal Grandmother was from a Jewish family in India that considers itself one of the lost tribes of Israel, but followed Muslim religion as an adult.
Andover/Reading group review:
Sadia is raised near Boston by her formerly Christian father from Colorado, her Muslim mother from Karachi and her Nana who was born Jewish in India and married a Muslim friend of the family. It is the
Cindy Dyson Eitelman
Dec 10, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2016
The Girl From Foreign

It's hard to say why this book gripped me so much. Ms. Shepard has gone to India on a research grant, to make a documentary about the Bene Israel settlement on the coast near Mumbai. The Bene Israel is a community of Jews who were shipwrecked on the coast two thousand years ago; they have lived until recently in isolation from the rest of the Jewish world but but still practicing what they could remember of their religion.

That's the focus of Ms. Shepard's research grant, bu
Jan 06, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012
The author of this memoir grew up in Colorado, the daughter of a white Christian father and a Pakistani Muslim mother. The author's grandmother, with whom she was very close, was part of a small Indian Jewish community called the Bene Israel who believe themselves to have been shipwrecked on the western coast of India 2,000 years ago. She married a Muslim man and moved to Pakistan during Partition, and she rarely talked about her childhood and young adulthood in India. Following her grandmother' ...more
Feb 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is an enchanting story that felt very close to my heart and left me in awe at the wonderful magic that awaits us in life. Simply beautiful and worth sharing.
The Girl from Foreign chronicles Sadia Shepard's journey of discovery to explore her heritage. She is the daughter of a Pakistani woman of Islamic faith and a white, Protestant from Colorado. Living with the family during Sadia's childhood and young adult-hood, was her cherished maternal grandmother. At age 13, Sadia discovers a pin that had belonged to a nurse named Rachel Jacobs. It turns out that Rachel was Sadia's grandmother's name before she married. Even more surprising was that her grand ...more
Mar 27, 2015 rated it liked it
Shepard interweaves family stories with her own experience, especially her search for her grandmother's roots as a B'nai Israel. I was especially interested in the contrasts between her mother's experience in Pakistan in the 1960s and the life of her cousins there today. Her mother and a cousin at age 16 went on an exchange program to the U. S.; it seemed natural for these teen-aged girls not only to be educated but to explore the world. The lives of her female cousins today, in contrast, were p ...more
Oct 02, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Magical almost. This fascinating memoir is of a young woman whose father is an American Christian, mother is a Pakistani Muslim, and grandmother, to whom she was very close, who was a Jew from the coast of India who became a Muslim when she married a Muslim man. Shepard goes to India as her grandmother asked her to do before she died, on a Fulbright scholarship to document the Bene Israel community in India, who believe themselves to be descended from one of the missing tribes of Israel who were ...more
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