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Crossing Mandelbaum Gate: Coming of Age Between the Arabs & Israelis 1956-78

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4.09  ·  Rating details ·  261 ratings  ·  49 reviews
PULITZER PRIZE WINNER KAI BIRD’S fascinating memoir of his early years spent in Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Lebanon provides an original and illuminating perspective into the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Weeks before the Suez War of 1956, four-year-old Kai Bird, son of a garrulous, charming American Foreign Service officer, moved to Jerusalem with his family. They s
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Hardcover, 448 pages
Published April 20th 2010 by Scribner
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Jennifer Abdo
Feb 28, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Jennifer by: Found on New Books shelf at library.
This is a pretty interesting memoir. His parents were "arabists" with the Foreign Service for his entire life. He talks about he and his family knowing Salem, the brother of Osama bin Laden (apparently polar opposite), living for a time in the same neighborhood as Zarkawi, knowing both the old and the divided Jerusalems. What he has to say about all of these subjects and people is intriguing. He grew up with a knowledge of the suffering and injustice of the Palestinians that most Americans then ...more
Salsadancer
Jun 18, 2010 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: those interested in Israeli-Palestinian situation
The last chapter makes the book.

I chose to read this book because I am on a quest to learn about Arab history and the Arab mind, and those intersecting with Israel would be a bonus, or so I thought. I was disappointed. I didn't learn much about either the Arab mind or it's history. The book is Kai Bird's memories and experiences, mostly childhood, of growing up in Arab-controlled West Jerusalem where his father was an American Foreign Service officer. He also lived in Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabi
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Karen
Mar 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
The author, the son of a U.S. foreign service officer, grew up as an ex-pat in the Middle East and eventually married an American Jew, the daughter of Holocaust survivors. In this way, he has had the opportunity to view the Israeli/Palestinian conflict from both sides. The Mandelbaum Gate, which separated the Israelis and the Palestinians was a metaphor for this.

This book contained a lot of interesting information not just about Israel and the Palestine but also about Saudi Arabia, E
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Gillian
Apr 18, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: world-literature
Very interesting introduction to the Arab-Israeli situation. Some parts of it were over my head, but I was definitely motivated to keep reading.
Hermien
I was hoping for more personal experiences but nonetheless a very informative book about the Middle Eastern conflict.
Tuck
Jan 31, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: pre-wwi, wwii
i read this simul with nina simone stopped singing The Day Nina Simone Stopped Singing and is about author growing up in jerusalem (he moved there as a tot in 1956, you know, suez war blah balh ) his dad was an oregonian (eugene, same as me) and if you ever wondered how the "middle east", palastine, jordan, egypt, syria, levant etc for ever get and be so fucked up, you can just read this book and wonder, how any of that could even be anymore. they been trying to kill each other, put each other in hell, ...more
Ray
Mar 06, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Unlike some books of a historical nature, which may be little more than listings of dates and events to be memorized, this book blends historical facts with the author's personal perspectives. Kai Bird manages to give life to the modern history of the Middle East by incorporating his memoirs as someone who was raised in the region. Bird is not only a historian and Pulitzer Prize winning author, but is the son of an American Foreign Service officer, and spent his formative years living in Israel, ...more
!Tæmbuŝu
Jul 31, 2010 marked it as to-read
Shelves: middle-east, memoir
Cindie Harp
Oct 09, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-reads
While I do not always agree with the political conclusions Bird draws from his life experiences, I do enjoy the journey with him.
Studebhawk
Jul 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The View Without the Gate
The perspective offered here by Kai Bird represents his unique personal experience having lived in Jerusalem at the very beginning of the Israeli - Palestinian dilemma. This unique perspective raises difficult questions for us in the western world.Christians, Jews and Muslims stand to benefit from the settlement of the Palestinian rights question.
His argument is only fairly balanced in that he gives disproportionate weight to the question of “Palestinian su
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Janet
Aug 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
What an amazing life story and insight into the history of the region from a keen prospective.
I grew up during this era but living in the US the news and information about the events that shaped the current middle east were not readily available and probably very slanted. Also, the main focus for me and my contemporaries was the Viet Nam war. So as horrible as the news was about Black September and the Olympics I don’t think I understood the ramifications of what these events meant.
I
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Ted Mccormack
Jun 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
A must-read for an understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis that has been going on since before World War II. Too many missed chances for peace and wrong-headed American policies.
Agnes
Aug 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
An excellent memoir combined with historical events as Kai Bird described his life growing up as a diplomat's son living in the Middle East from 1956 to 1978. He was an American in the region as an outsider and witnessed first hand what was happening to the Palestinians living around him. I like the way he broke down the regions’ historical events as it affected his life and the lives of his family. It goes back and forth in his narrative depending on the topic of discussion – Early Palestine, E ...more
Shikha
May 19, 2011 rated it really liked it
Prior to a recent trip to the middle east, I skimmed online reviews and shelves looking for a book that would provide as objective as possible perspective on the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians. While Kai Bird's book does lean in certain directions throughout the book, his experience as an American child of Arabists who grew up in various parts of the middle east and eventually married a Jewish American woman whose family had its own experiences with the shoah, bolstered by histor ...more
Michelle
Mar 11, 2011 rated it it was amazing
There were times with this book that I yelled at it, was frustrated, wondered what was going on, "argued" with the author--but I sure learned a lot. The author grew up in the Middle East with his diplomat-father and is a passionate advocate of the Palestinian cause--tempered now with what he's learned by marrying a daughter of Jewish Holocaust victims. I think this is a hugely valuable book to read if one is interested in the seemingly intractable problems in the Middle East--but expect to be ch ...more
Elliot Ratzman
Jan 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Curious about the Middle East and the Israeli-Arab conflict
Loved it! Kai Bird is a journalist and biographer who grew up in the Middle East—Jerusalem, Saudi Arabia, Egypt— his father part of the American diplomatic corps. This is an excellent history of the modern Middle East told through Bird’s experience, and the most accessible intro that I can recall since Friedman’s From Beirut to Jerusalem. Partisans of the Israeli-Arab conflict will profit from details of his father’s diplomatic encounters with Arab nationalists, intellectuals, Israelis and oil s ...more
Timothy
Jun 21, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I picked up this book sometime after reading Palestinian Walks because I found the topic interesting (and illuminating). It rapidly became one of the best books I've ever read, and I was a Literature major during my undergraduate studies--still reading about 100 books/year on average. Kai Bird is a superb writer. While I thought this account would be VERY specific (1956-1978), it surprised me the way it followed Kai's experiences and likewise weaved a much broader history of the middle east and ...more
Allison
I don't know how I originally became aware of this book - but wow. Definitely worth the read.

Kai Bird has the unique experience of being the son of a foreign service officer in the Middle East during the mid-century and later marrying into a Jewish family of which his wife's parents both survived the Holocaust in Europe. This book is part memoir, part journalistic piece, and I found the two parts complemented each other. The lack of a chronological narrative was difficult at times, b
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Jill
May 17, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
As the son of an American foreign service officer the author spent his youth in Jerusalem, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Lebanon. His memoir recounts his experiences growing up in this war torn area of the world, interspersed with descriptions of the conflict between the Israelis and Arabs. He argues coherently for a secular Israel-Palestine and describes many missed opportunities for establishing this and ending the conflict. His marriage to the daughter of Holocaust survivors allows us to see the ef ...more
Noah Kennedy
Feb 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I learned a lot from this book about the conflicts in Jerusalem and in the Middle East generally, but the book stands out for its honest poignancy. Each of the events in Kai Bird's personal journey growing up in the region-- being a child in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem, his later years in Saudi Arabia, and his falling in love with the daughter of Holocaust survivors-- sets the stage for a thought-provoking meditation on some of the toughest ethical issues behind the conflict ...more
Bryony Sykes
Sep 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Besides being an autobiography it was an introduction to the complicated issues surrounding the ongoing upheavals in the lives of innocent civilians, particularly from the point of view from an American young man growing up in the Middle East. The political wheeling and dealing that took place behind the scenes continues to impact on growing numbers of refugees in the region. A most worthwhile read and highly recommended to anyone else who wishes to increase their knowledge of the Middle East.
The Book : An Online Review at The New Republic
What has happened to historical revisionism about the Zionist-Arab conflict demonstrates the truth of the cliché that there can be too much of a good thing. Clearly, the tidal wave of pro-Zionist and pro-Israeli writing, in Israel and the West, in the wake of the Holocaust and the somehow miraculous (and fitting) birth of the State of Israel was bound to be overtaken by a more critical and balanced appreciation. Read more...
Florence
May 15, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A superlative book: part middle east primer and part personal memoir, this book filled in my knowledge of such events as Saudi history, the Jordanian civil war, the pan-Arab regime of Nasser, and political currents in the newly formed nation of Israel. Although the author spent a large part of his childhood in Arab neighborhoods he presents an evenhanded analysis of the region and a well thought out proposal for peace.
Elaine
Jun 30, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2011-reads
I think this is an honest, open and heartfelt memoir done by the author on his life. I liked the way he presented his thoughts, the history and the story of his life. I found this to be a very good read as it presented new thoughts and insights, for me, about the Middle East. It was also very interesting to read how he's thinking changed over the years, yet never really changed at heart. It shows me how knowledge is power to the individual.
Rob
Jun 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This book is very unusual. It is an autobiographical look at a very current and challenging subject — the Arab/Israeli conflict. The author grew up among the Arabs as the son of US Foreign Service officers. He learned their perspective. Later, as an adult, he married the daughter of Holocaust survivors and experienced that perspective very strongly. This is an interesting journey and offers fascinating insights. It’s very timely.
Gayla Bassham
Feb 02, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nbcc-2011, 2011-reads
A very thought-provoking memoir. Bird grew up in various Muslim countries (his father was a diplomat) and was extremely sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. He married the daughter of two Holocaust survivors and then gained a more sympathetic understanding of Israeli history which caused him to moderate his views somewhat. His conclusions are rosier than I believe to be warranted, but I still think this is a must-read if you are interested in the history of this area.
Gari Aber
Apr 08, 2011 rated it it was ok
After reading the other reviews, I think I may be wrong about this book. I didn't think the author was very clear about the history and he spent lots of space honoring his parents writings regardless of the value of the letters. The memoir part was not informative to the book and not interesting. The final chapters carried the book. If it weren't that I had to read it for a book club, it would have gone back to the library after 50 pages.
Esti
Dec 20, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Great book, part memoir, part history. Author is pulitzer prize winning journalist who grew up in East Jerusalem, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt during 1960's. He attended Carleton college in the early 70's where he met his wife, Susan Goldmark, the daughter of holocaust survivors. He tells his fascinating account of the Arab Israeli conflict with a uniquely balanced perspective.
Eleanor
Jul 06, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This is a very informative book about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Mr. Bird offers up his perspective on the history of the conflict, helping the reader to better understand the complexity of the issue. Many things the U.S. government does not talk about is included throughout - all in all - a balanced and thoughtful narrative.
Sally Dark
Apr 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is an extremely fascinating memoir of a young American growing up in the Middle East. Well written, vivid and fascinating, he gives a completely impartial, non-violent view on the recent history of the conflict between the Arabs and Israelis, from before the first world way until very recently. I learned so much after reading this book, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone.
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Kai Bird is an American Pulitzer Prize-winning author and journalist, best known for his biographies of political figures. He has also won the National Book Critics Circle Award for biography, the Duff Cooper Prize, a Woodrow Wilson Center Fellowship, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. He is a Contributing Editor of The Nation magazine.

Bird was born in 1951. His father was a U.S. Foreign Ser
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