Sabar, Ariel. "My Father's Paradise: A Son's Search for his Jewish Past in Kurdish Iraq", Algonquin, 2008.
Reconciling Past and Present
We really do not have a great deal of literature about Jewish life in Iraq so "My Father's Paradise" is extremely welcome. Ariel Sabar, a noted journalist gives us a look at past and present in the Arab country and it is all fascinating. Kurdish Iraq can be described as "a remote and dusty corner of the world, long forgotten for nearly 3000 years." Here they still spoke Aramaic and most of the people had a degree of literacy. They believed in mysticism and they told stories and supported themselves by humble and honest work. The people of Kurdish Iraq lived peacefully with their neighbors who were Muslims and Christians. The Jewish community of northern Iraq originated with the tribes of Israel and in this community Ariel Sabar's father, Yona, was born. Yona came to the States and in the 1980's was a professor at UCLA where he worked with the Aramaic language. At the same time, his son was experimenting with becoming a drummer in a rock band. When Ariel's son was born in 2002, he began to understand the meaning of fatherhood and became involved in the history of his family. As Sabar unearths information, he shares it with us and we learn of the daily life in the village of Zahko and then he moves onto the daily life of the Kurdish Jews when they came to Israel after having been expelled from Iraq in 1951. 120,000 Kurdish Jews, a large element of the Diaspora which was virtually unknown, went to Israel in the 50's where they were considered "backward and simple". It seemed that their heritage and life would never be known but when Yona came to America; he was determined to preserve the Kurdish traditions and dedicated his career to it. It took for Ariel to have a son of his own to understand his father's passion. Yona and Ariel went to Iraq to find what was left of Zahko and they learn the story of the Sabar family as well as an epic saga of hope and tolerance. The characters that father and son meet are a gallery of unforgettable people--linguists, Arab and Kurdish chieftains, nomads and Bedouins, religious believers. We get an eyewitness account of the history of a place that has vanished but remains in a place that monopolizes the attention of today's world. Ancient Iraq and 21st century America are indeed worlds apart; "My Father's Paradise" brings them together through beautiful prose and intense storytelling. Several times my eyes filled with tears as I read, both from the depth of the tales and the beauty of the prose. It is so good to have this book! It fills a void which existed for too long and gives the Kurdish Jews their proper place. I remember spending an evening with a Kurdish family when I lived in Israel and although the details are fuzzy, the book reminded me of it and just that is enough for me.
Though Ariel Sabar may regret that his relationship with his father was so contentious, readers have cause to rejoice because that fractured relationship led Sabar to pen this elegant tale of his father's life and language. Yona Sabar, a Jewish Kurd, grew up speaking Aramaic, an ancient language now all but lost. He is also a celebrated linguist who has worked tirelessly to document his language before it dies. This book traces that effort, weaving a colorful tapestry of Jewish … more
I wasn't quite sure what to expect from this book's description, but knowing I'm not a fan of "sweeping multi-generational sagas" on the fiction side, I approached "My Father's Paradise" with a little nervousness. But Ariel Sabar won me over very quickly with what turned out to be a surprisingly engrossing, educational, and ultimately moving story. The narrative covers a lot of literal ground, from Kurdistan to Israel to New Haven to Los Angeles and back, but also thematic … more