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Review: My Father’s Paradise, Ariel Sabar

As a teen and young adult, Ariel Sabar always thought his father Yona was a bit strange.  Yona had immigrated twice in his life, from Zakho in Iraq to Israel to the US.  When Ariel had his own son, he realized the errors he had wrought and set about learning the story of his family’s past in Kurdish Iraq and Israel to help him reconnect with his father, an internationally renowned professor at UCLA, and preserve history.  This book traces his family’s journey, starting with his grandmother, moving on to his father’s academic rise, and finishing with his own journey to Zakho.

This was an excellent book.  It reads like a novel at times, with bits of history and folklore intertwined with the Sabar family’s past.  I couldn’t wait to get back to it when I wasn’t reading it, because I really wanted to know more about this fascinating family.  I feel that there aren’t enough books that really center in on the Middle East and its vast changes that are accessible to ordinary people, but this book bridges the gap beautifully.

It also tells the universal story of the immigrant; searching for better opportunities and rarely finding them.  I’ve read about this situation a lot with American immigrants.  The only way I’d heard about this in respect to Israel before was through my Jewish friends at Brandeis University, some of whose parents and grandparents had had journeys similar to Yona’s.  So not only is Sabar recording his family’s history, he is also chronicling that of an entire group of displaced persons, the Kurds.  I was astounded by the attitude of other Jews in Israel to them; I thought Israel was the promised land and that all people were equal and welcomed there.  It may be that way now, which is what modern Jews tell me, but it certainly wasn’t the case 50 years ago when Yona Sabar’s family immigrated there.

This book contains a story that is immersive, historical, and human.  I definitely recommend it. Buy this book on Amazon.

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