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Crossing Mandelbaum Gate: Coming of Age Between the Arabs and Israelis, 1956-1978

4.07  ·  Rating Details  ·  206 Ratings  ·  39 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
Paperback, 448 pages
Published March 15th 2011 by Scribner (first published June 29th 2010)
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Jennifer Abdo
Feb 28, 2011 Jennifer Abdo rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jennifer by: Found on New Books shelf at library.
Shelves: saudi-arabia
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
Jun 18, 2010 Salsadancer rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 31, 2014 Tuck rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 i ...more
Aug 25, 2015 Agnes rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Noah Kennedy
Feb 07, 2016 Noah Kennedy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
May 17, 2014 Jill rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Cindie Harp
Oct 12, 2014 Cindie Harp rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Elliot Ratzman
Jan 01, 2013 Elliot Ratzman rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 20, 2011 Ray 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
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
Sep 25, 2011 Shikha rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 21, 2012 Timothy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Sally Dark
May 08, 2016 Sally Dark 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.
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, but overall d
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...
Bryony Sykes
Dec 25, 2013 Bryony Sykes rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Gayla Bassham
Mar 11, 2011 Gayla Bassham rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2011-reads, nbcc-2011
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.
Jun 30, 2011 Elaine 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.
Gari Aber
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.
May 29, 2010 Florence 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.
Bianca-antonia Anechitei
I knew nothing of the Middle East before I read this.
Jan 06, 2011 Esti rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jul 23, 2011 Jennifer rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent book by Pulitzer prize winning author Kai Bird. Crossing Mandelbaum Gate covers the author's personal and family history in the middle east (Israel, Palestine, Egypt, and Saudi). Bird is an excellent story teller - this book is a great read.
Elizabeth Fisher
This is an amazing book. The author's stories about growing up in the Middle East are fascinating, but also it makes sense of the history. What before only seemed like isolated terrorism now falls into place. This book is really rich and nuanced; I loved it.
Vikas Datta
Mar 05, 2013 Vikas Datta rated it it was amazing
A wonderful account of the Middle East at a critical time with incisive portraits of key figures such as Nasser and King Faisal, while at the same time, is a eminently readable coming of age account and also shows the way forward. Marvellous
Mar 12, 2014 Susan rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I read 60 pages of this book and then put it aside. Although I feel it is a book worth reading for the historical content, it did not hold my interest because I felt as though I was reading a textbook.
Lisa Bell
Very interesting but I had to take notes to keep up with who was who. I often referred to Google to search maps, names and wars. I will read it again after I have had time to process the history lesson.
Aug 31, 2011 Rosemary rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting read and interesting mix of memoir and history. It was at times hard to follow as it's not an area of the world I know enough about. So it was not a fast read.
Sep 12, 2010 Laura rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Actually, it was overdue and I had to return it without finishing. I'll get it back! So far, quite a good history of the entire region, but a slow read.
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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 Service officer
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