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My Father's Paradise: Book summary and reviews of My Father's Paradise by Ariel Sabar

My Father's Paradise

A Son's Search for his Jewish Past in Kurdish Iraq

by Ariel Sabar

My Father's Paradise

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Book Summary

In a remote and dusty corner of the world, forgotten for nearly three thousand years, lived an ancient community of Kurdish Jews so isolated that they still spoke Aramaic—the language of Jesus. Mostly illiterate, they were self-made mystics and gifted storytellers, humble peddlers and rugged loggers who dwelt in harmony with their Muslim and Christian neighbors in the mountains of northern Iraq. To these descendants of the Lost Tribes of Israel, Yona Sabar was born.

In the 1950s, after the founding of the state of Israel, Yona and his family emigrated there with the mass exodus of 120,000 Jews from Iraq—one of the world's largest and least-known diasporas. Almost overnight, the Kurdish Jews' exotic culture and language were doomed to extinction. Yona, who became an esteemed professor at UCLA, dedicated his career to preserving his people's traditions. But to his first-generation American son Ariel, Yona was a reminder of a strange immigrant heritage on which he had turned his back—until he had a son of his own.

My Father's Paradise is Ariel Sabar's quest to reconcile present and past. As father and son travel together to today's postwar Iraq to find what's left of Yona's birthplace, Ariel brings to life the ancient town of Zakho, telling his family's story and discovering his own role in this sweeping saga. What he finds in the Sephardic Jews' millennia-long survival in Islamic lands is an improbable story of tolerance and hope.

Populated by Kurdish chieftains, trailblazing linguists, Arab nomads, devout believers—marvelous characters all— this intimate yet powerful book uncovers the vanished history of a place that is now at the very center of the world's attention.

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Book Awards

  • award image National Book Critics Circle Award, 2009

Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. Sabar offers something rare and precious-a tale of hope and continuity that can be passed on for generations. " - Publishers Weekly.

"A well-researched text falling somewhere between journalism and memoir, sustained by Mesopotamian imagination." - Kirkus Reviews.

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Ariel Sabar covered the 2008 U.S. presidential campaigns for the Christian Science Monitor and is a former staff writer for the Baltimore Sun and the Providence (RI) Journal. His work has also appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Monthly, Mother Jones magazine, and other publications. He lives with his wife and two children in Washington, DC.

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