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My Fathers Paradise: A Sons Search for His Jewish Past in Kurdish Iraq

by Ariel Sabar

Book list For almost 3,000 years, a tiny Jewish enclave existed in what is now the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq. The Jews and their Christian and Muslim neighbors spoke the ancient tongue of Aramaic, which had once been the lingua franca of the Middle East and was spoken by Jesus. Sabar's father, Yona, was born in that enclave but immigrated to the U.S. when the creation of the state of Israel created hostile conditions for Iraqi Jews in the 1950s. Yona, however, maintained strong emotional ties to his native language and culture even as he ascended to a prominent academic position at UCLA. Meanwhile, Sabar showed virtually no interest in his father's background; however, after the birth of his own son, he felt a desire to reconnect with his father and their shared cultural heritage. Their joint visit to their ancestral town of Zakho rekindles memories of the ancient community while strengthening the ties between father and son. An involving memoir that works as both a family saga and an examination of a lost but treasured community.--Freeman, Jay Copyright 2008 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

Library Journal Sabar, a former political reporter for the Christian Science Monitor, grew up as a typical California kid. His father, a Kurdish Jew, is the foremost scholar of Aramaic, the language of Jesus, which most people think is extinct. The disconnect between his present and his past launched Sabar on a quest to understand the history of Kurdish Jews, who spent 2000 years in northern Iraq until the 1950s, when most of them emigrated to Israel. Interweaving the community's history with his family's stories, Sabar tells of his visits to Iraq and Israel to trace his father's journey from an isolated Kurdish village to UCLA, where at one point he provides Aramaic dialog for The X-Files. Although Sabar ultimately fails to discover the fate of his father's sister, who was kidnapped from their village in the 1930s, he does begin to understand his responsibility to his ancestry. Throughout the narrative, he focuses on identity and community and this central question: "When we carry our languages and stories from one generation to the next, from one country to another, what exactly do we gain?" Written with a reporter's flair for people and places, this is recommended for public libraries.--Diane Harvey, Univ. of Maryland Libs., College Park Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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