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My Father's Paradise: A Son's Search for His Family's Past [Englisch] [Taschenbuch]

Ariel Sabar

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3. Oktober 2009
In a remote corner of the world, forgotten for nearly three thousand years, lived an enclave of Kurdish Jews so isolated that they still spoke Aramaic, the language of Jesus. Mostly illiterate, they were self-made mystics and gifted storytellers and humble peddlers 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. Yona's son Ariel grew up in Los Angeles, where Yona had become an esteemed professor, dedicating his career to preserving his people's traditions. Ariel wanted nothing to do with his father's strange immigrant heritage - until he had a son of his own. Ariel Sabar brings to life the ancient town of Zakho, discovering his family's place in the sweeping saga of Middle-Eastern history. This powerful book is an improbable story of tolerance and hope set in what today is the very center of the world's attention.


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"Voices like Susan Hand Shetterly's are soothing . . . Shetterly puts a hand on your forearm and says, come walk along the Maine coast. Let's consider other species, eels and hummingbirds." The Los Angeles Times"

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78 von 78 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen Excellent history of the Kurdish Jewish experience told through the story of the author's family 30. August 2008
Von Benjamin Lukoff - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe|Vine Kundenrezension eines kostenfreien Produkts (Was ist das?)
We've all heard of Kurdistan, of course--especially the Iraqi portion. And those like me who are either of Jewish descent, interested in languages, or both, have heard of Kurdish Jews and the fact that they were some of the last remaining speakers of Aramaic. But never before had I gotten such a deep insight into their culture and struggles to assimilate in the new state of Israel. They truly had more in common with their fellow Kurds than their Ashkenazi co-religionists in Israel, and this seems to have been a major reason the author's father elected to stay in the U.S. after receiving his Ph.D. at Yale. It's slightly mistitled in that, while Ariel Sabar's search and desire to reconcile with his family's past was the genesis of the book, it really reads more as a biography of his father Yona, now a UCLA professor, and of the entire Kurdish Jewish community. The son's own story, while touching, almost seemed an afterthought.

I understand from the introduction that some dialogue was made up and some composite characters were created, so while this isn't quite creative nonfiction, it's not journalism either. That makes for an excellent read, but it also makes me wonder if there's an accessible but more historiographic book on this subject out there.

At any rate, my thanks to Ariel Sabar for writing this and painting a vivid picture of a world I think few people know ever existed... one that was turned upside down in the space of his father's childhood and is now almost nonexistent. My thanks, too, to Yona Sabar for his important scholarship. I had no idea how important this man was to the study of Neo-Aramaic and am glad he didn't suffer the fate of too many of his fellow Mizrahi immigrants to Israel. Highly recommended.
40 von 40 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen Beautiful and beautifully written 14. September 2008
Von J. Fuchs - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe|Vine Kundenrezension eines kostenfreien Produkts (Was ist das?)
At heart this is about a Jewish man, born and raised in America, trying as a grown-up to find a connection to the immigrant father by whom he was baffled and embarrassed as a child. Ariel Sabar knows how to tell a story, however, and it's his writing and organization even more than the story itself that makes this book such a treasure. But the story is wonderful, too.

The book starts in the village of Zakho, in Kurdish Iraq, with the tale of its people, including the author's great-grandfather, Ephraim, the dyer, whom the locals believe talks to angels. Sabar makes the village and its inhabitants come alive and while I at times wished there were more photos included in the book, Sabar's writing is usually picture enough. Sabar's parents are married (arranged, of course), Sabar's father, Yona, and his siblings are born, and too many of them die. One goes tragically missing. Throughout the personal saga, Sabar presents a global context -- World Wars I & II, the relationship of his family's native language in Zakho (Aramaic) to the rest of Iraq, to the multi-culturalism and religious harmony of Kurdistan and how the area was divided in the wake of the first World War, to the changing attitudes toward Jews in Iraq and the Middle East and the foundation of Israel.

In the '50's Sabar's family relocates, not entirely willingly, to Israel, where they find not the holy land of their dreams, but a huge and unwelcoming city in which they are the lowest of the low. Most of the middle of the book follows Yona's tale as he works to make something of himself in this hostile environment, eventually earning a scholarship to Yale and becoming a respected professor of Neo-Aramaic at UCLA.

The final sections of the book recount the author's story and his attempts to reconnect with his roots in Iraq and reconcile himself with his father.

Wisely, Sabar distances himself from the earlier portions of the book and doesn't spend much time on his American upbringing and personal story, choosing only to interject himself into the tale as it relates to his family's past. The tale is about the people, but Sabar deftly weaves throught the book language, politics, religion, and poverty without letting any of them dominate.

Being from Los Angeles I find myself hoping one day that I will run into and recognize Ariel and Yona, so that I can smile at my fellow Angelino and the rumpled professor who has never felt like he truly belongs here. I know very little about my family before they emmigrated to New York, but somehow Sabar's book makes me feel as if I do. His family's story is that of everyone whose ancestors came here hoping for a better life for the people they loved, yet still missing that which was lost.

Thank you, Ariel Sabar for this beautiful and heartfelt book.
21 von 21 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen A World Long Gone But Still With Us 15. Dezember 2008
Von Labarum - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe|Vine Kundenrezension eines kostenfreien Produkts (Was ist das?)
The events of the Middle East that assault us each day from CNN and other sources seem to be motivated by an understanding of the world that is completely removed from what is taken for granted by the West. It is a world where one's religion is not only their faith but their tribal identification; where everything is conducted in the context of cultural assumptions more rooted in the world of medieval nomadic traders than the egalitarian ideas of modern nation-states. "Why do they act this way?" we often wonder as we witness their stubborn refusal to act like us.

Although not written for that purpose, Ariel Sabar's My Father's Paradise gives keen insight into this world that is at once both lost but still with us in today's headlines. Sabar's family line traces back to a time when the Jews of the Middle East were not centered in Israel but spread throughout the region. Most of these communities are now gone - leaving because of their dream of a Jewish state or their fear of remaining behind what is now enemy lines. Like the now firm divide between the Greece and Turkey, the current situation tells us nothing about the past - and everything.

Sabar was motivated to trace his roots and this led to an small area in what is now Kurdish Iraq. There his family was part of a small Jewish community that was so isolated they still spoke Aramaic - a language that once was the lingua franca of the Middle East but was thought to have died centuries earlier. In retracing his family's steps, Sabar's eyes were opened to a world we barely know existed, one where the strange mix of ethnic and religious identities worked with and often around the authorities to preserve some semblance of their traditions.

Despite an admitted aversion earlier in life to the traditions of his family, Sabar seems to have become a marvelous apologist for that lineage. He is an excellent storyteller and his rendering of the tale of his family is both heartwarming and heartbreaking. It is in fact as complex as the world he describes - a world that has died but whose ghosts still haunt us.

It might be argued that the situation in the area of Zakho he describes was not typical of life as a whole but that is precisely the point - no one picture is "typical" of an area that has seen so much culture, conflict, and fervor. This is an area of the world that has been a battleground for many of the world's major religions, has been under the heel of Persian, Greek, Roman, Arabic, Turkish, Mongol, and British empires, and consequently been involved in many of the most important conflicts in world history. It is both the root of our common culture but has nothing at all common in it.

The most powerful thing in this book is that he relates key events not by a dispassionate laundry list of crises and dates but in the lives of ordinary people for whom the sudden outbreaks of violence were unfathomable. How could this outside world that had ignored them for centuries suddenly see them as a symbol of a conspiracy in a faraway land? How could their friends whom they had known for many years now turn on them and want them punished for deeds done by others?

One begins to understand also the conflicts within Israel itself between the Jews whose identity has been in this region for centuries and those who emigrated from the West that led to the state of Israel. These two groups may have shared a religion but the way Sabar's relatives saw the world had far more in common with their Kurdish Muslim neighbors than with their fellow religionists. In Israel they may have shared a religion, but in Zakho they shared a way of life.

Anyone wishing to understand the complexities of the region should read My Father's Paradise. In particular, the recent efforts at "exporting democracy" with expectations it would take on the same character as in the West seem even more hopeless than before. While Ariel Sabar's tale is not meant as a political statement, the realities of life in the region - based as it is on the lives and hopes of real people - gives us a window into the tragedy of that region and the triumph of one family over its obstacles.
9 von 9 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen Past and Future, Father and Son 8. September 2008
Von Big Dave - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe|Vine Kundenrezension eines kostenfreien Produkts (Was ist das?)
Ariel Sabar's account of his family's history in Kurdish Iraq and his own relationship with his father has the detail and dream-like atmosphere of a Naguib Mahfouz novel.

The Sabagha family were Aramaic-speaking Jewish dyers and merchants in Kurdish Iraq. Sabar's narrative recounts events as far back as his great-grandfather's time, but focuses on his father, Yona Beh Sabagha. While he is a boy, Yona's family emigrates to Israel, at the strong suggestion of the Iraqi government. In Israel, Yona attends school at night, and eventually makes it into university, where the fact that he has native knowledge of the Aramaic language (or "Neo-Aramaic", being Aramaic in its last, dying phase) leads him to become a linguist, pursuing studies at Yale and eventually becoming a professor at UCLA and a leading scholar of Neo-Aramaic. Yona's son Ariel (the author) identifies more with mainstream American culture than with his father, but as he matures comes to see his father in a different light, and value his father's efforts to preserve the history, tradition and culture embodied in the Aramaic language. Son and father return to Zakho together as son researches the writing of his book, and seeks to resolve a family mystery.

This book is beautifully-written and a delight to read. It is structured like a novel, with resolution of a loss at the book's beginning coming only at the end. Like a good country music song, it abounds in particulars (details from life in Zakho before World War II and in Israel mid-century) while exploring an important universal theme -- the tension and interplay between the two necessary goods of valuing the past and seeking a better future.
7 von 7 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen Eloquent 23. September 2008
Von Becky Hoffmann - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
For many hundreds of years the small village of Zakho in Iraq was a quiet, unassuming place to raise a family. It rarely made its way into the annuls of history and nothing of any significance ever gave it a reason to change its primitive ways. Jews lived in harmony alongside Christians and Muslims. Until a war broke out in the 1950s that was so big Zakho couldn't hide in its corner of Iraq any longer. When the Kurdish Jews were offered a chance to escape to Israel, they left behind their previous lives to pursue paradise. Except Israel was anything but the promised land these Jews sought. To be a newly immigrated Kurdish Jew in Israel was to be the lowest of the low. It was at this time in history that Yona Beh Sabagha was coming of age. This displacement shaped the boy into a man. Determined to make something of himself in the face of difficult odds Yona invented himself in Israel(quite literally with the changing of his last name to Sabar), then reinvented himself in America as a renowned linguistics professor at UCLA.

Fast forward to the dawn of a new century. Ariel Sabar has spent his every moment rebelling against and distancing himself from his father, a man inconsistent with his fashionable L.A. surroundings; until the birth of his own son causes him to step into his father's shoes. It becomes the impetus for the journey to discover his roots and to understand the man his father is apart from being the father of Ariel Sabar.

This eloquent family history combines factual details with just the right amount of storytelling flare. I admire the way the author honors his father, a man of quiet dignity. And I am a little jealous of the rich family history he has to ground himself in. I sometimes got lost in the details about war and politics but these were not heavy nor did they at all detract from the story of this remarkable family. It is very readable. I highly recommend it.
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