My Father’s Paradise – Ariel Sabar

Posted 30 September, 2008 by Trish in Reading Nook, Review / 28 Comments

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Title: My Father’s Paradise
Author: Ariel Sabar
Date Finished: Sept 30, 2008 #56
Pages: 326
Published: 2008
Rating: 4.5/5

I’m not sure if this book would classify as memoir, biography, or history, but regardless it was the perfect ending to this year’s Non-Fiction Five Challenge. I received this ARC from Algonquin Books and at first I was a little reluctant to read it because I was afraid it would be heavy–definitely not what I’m looking for right now! This book, though, was a perfect blend of history and personal narrative.

My Father’s Paradise is perfectly summed in the subtitle of the book: “A Son’s Search for His Jewish Past in Kurdish Iraq.” Ariel was a self-centered youth growing up in Los Angeles. All he really wanted was to be able to fit in with his friends, but he felt that his father’s strangeness prevented that. He grew up resenting the fact that his father, who immigrated to the US in the 1960s, didn’t ever fit the mold of The American Dad. One day, though, he realized how special and unique his heritage is and so he embarked on the journey to learn about his past–a journey which became this book–and a journey that Ariel recognizes is no where close to being finished.

The book is basically comprised of three different parts that are all woven together to create this narrative (I call these sections but it isn’t defined this way in the book). First, Sabar gives the history of where his father, Yona, was born–the history of Kurdish Iraq. This section was a little dense and it took me longer to read, but it is a history that I am not very familiar with and it is absolutely fascinating. I really want to give tidbits about the history and what makes this part of the world so unique, but then this review would go on and on and on… :) Second, Sabar discusses the mass exodus of Jews from Iraq to Israel in the 1940s and 50s. Yona, then just 12 years old, went with his family to Israel to start a new life. The bulk of the book explains Yona’s transition into adulthood and the trials he faced both in Israel and then in the US where he attended college. Finally, the last section is Ariel’s own personal narrative of growing up with an immigrant father and also his journey to learn about his father, his culture, and his family.

This is definitely one of the best books I’ve read this year. I learned so much about the Jewish culture and faith, Zionism, Iraq, Israel, and linguistics (Yona is an Aramaic scholar–the language of Jesus that is almost extinct). Not only did I learn a lot from this book, but the story Sabar tells is deeply touching and one that perhaps many of us can relate to as we learn about our own personal histories. The characters that come along the way are endearing, funny, poignant, and best of all real. The narrative, while very detailed, never felt weighed down and I was always eager to learn what happened next. I think my only complaint is that at the beginning Sabar oscillates heavily between his father’s story and the history of Kurdish Iraq and it was hard to keep track of everything. I finally began jotting down brief notes in the margins (I know…no no!) to help me remember key dates and facts. The latter half of the book, though, doesn’t contain quite as much history and the story flows much more smoothly. If you haven’t already–pick this book up! I hope you’ll be glad you did.

I’ll leave you with Sabar’s own words and perhaps what he is trying to accomplish with this book:

“Who is my father? How did he wind up so far from home? I wrote this book in part to answer those questions. I wanted to conjure the gulfs of geography and language he crossed on his life’s journey from the hills of Kurdistan to the highways of Los Angeles. But I also had other, bigger questions: What is the value of our past? When we carry our languages and stories from one generation to the next, from one country to another, what exactly do we gain?” (5).

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28 Responses to “My Father’s Paradise – Ariel Sabar”

  1. Sounds like a really interesting read. I like biographies in general, but this sounds especially cool. Thanks for recommending!

  2. Rae

    Am I allowed to leave a comment that’s not book related?
    Sooooo, you left me a comment telling me to answer your question…….but what question?? You didn’t ask me one?
    But I will tell you, I actually blogged about the dilemma about how to respond to comments. I asked people what they thought, and ended up deciding I would respond to comments in another comment on the “asker’s” blog.

  3. hey trish.. i am soo glad you liked this book.. i read this book a while ago..got it from LT. I totally loved the book.. it is one of the best books i read this year as well! the history kinda started getting to me after a while..but i am glad the book took a turn after that and became Really REALLY interesting..:)

  4. *Kim – I little bit biography and a little bit memoir–not sure how to classify this one!! Definitely more personal than your usual biography, though.

    *Rach – My question was whether or not I should subscribe to follow up comments–whether you responded to comments or not. I always subscribe unless I know the person doesn’t answer comments…does that make sense? :) I don’t like the back and forth of commenting on different blog posts about the same thing–nice to keep the dialogue all together in one place. And LOL–yes you can comment about non book related stuff. I’m too lazy to blog about day-to-day things like everyone else so books is what you get!! :) Maybe this weekend…? I’ll send you an email soon–promise!!

    *Ramya – The history was a little much at first but I really loved it. I found it easier to take notes while I read–something I’m generally too lazy to do. I wish Sabar had included some type of timeline in the book!!

  5. If I wouldn’t have just finished this book, your review would have made me want to go out and buy it! I also found the history fascinating, and I learned a lot that I didn’t know about Jewish history, Iraq and Israel! The quote that you used at the end is the same one I was going to use in my review! Dangit! I guess I should learn not to procrasinate so much!

  6. I loved this book too! It was a pleasure to read while still interesting, informative, and touching. Great review. =)

  7. oh wow! I love the way this book sounds. Thanks for the review, it was excellent!

    I am in deep need of a light read…one can only take so much death, destruction, war and plague!!! Even if I am only reading about it, it still affects me.

  8. Great review Trish. This book sounds fascinating. I always like learning about other cultures. This will be one for the list for sure. I’m glad you enjoyed it so much.

  9. Congrats on completing the two challenges, Trish! And thanks for recommending this book…it sounds so fascinating. I like the fact that it even includes information on old Aramaic. I normally love learning about things like that.

  10. *Laura – You can still use the quote!! But anyway, yes I’m glad I read this one and I look forward to reading what you have to say!

    *Meghan – Great way to sum this book–a pleasure but still really informative! Glad you loved it, too.

    *Violetcrush – I hope you like it–it’s a great story of personal and cultural history.

    *Bethany – I don’t know how “light” this one is, but I absolutely know what you mean about one heavy read after another. At least this one isn’t quite as depressing! I think you’d like this one.

    *Dar – Yes, definitely a great one for learning about different cultures. I hope you can read it soon!

    *Nymeth – It always feels so great to finish those challenges!! I think you’d like this book. And the linguistic section of this book are really interesting–I don’t think I had ever really heard of Aramaic before.

  11. That sounds wonderful and I am so envious. How did you get hooked up with Algonquin Books? I jogged over there and noticed that they have everything my Mississippi hero, Larry Brown, has ever written. Uber cool.

    Congrats on finishing the challenges!

  12. hey trish.. cou;dn’t find your email address on your blog.. thought i’d drop in a quick email regarding the widget and the commentators list..
    anyways, shall just say it here:
    i found the widget for top commentators on google.. i think i have that site bookmarked.. can send you the link if you want me to.
    I have been trying to get a way to get the commentators list as well. For september, i just did a manual list and that was a LOT of effort.. but i am thinking that since most of my visitors keep coming back i wouldn’t have to re-do the whole list next month.. just add any new ones to it..
    if i find a easier way to do it, i’ll let you know.. and keep me in mind if you come across something!:)
    you can email me at
    ramyasbookshelf(at)gmail(dot)com

  13. *Bookfool – I heard about the book through Shelf Awareness–nothing too special. :) Although it is a really good book and I would recommend it!

    *Bellezza – Always feels great to finish them! I think I have five more to finish by the end of the year…eeks!

    *Michelle – my favorite kind of non-fiction is memoir, so this was perfect for that. I used to never read non-fiction but I find it creeping more and more into my book diet.

    *Ramya – I’ll have to check out the site. I did find something the other day but I wasn’t able to install it…? I do have my email listed on my profile,but I guess I should put it somewhere on my front page since a few other people have tried to contact me about this or that.

  14. i must be going blind.. i can’t find your email on your profile.. you sure it’s there? btw, you were talking about the “top commentators” widget right?? i think if you do it with your blogger open in a different tab, it automatically uploads the widget for you..

  15. Ramya – Oh boo! I just checked a few weeks ago and it was there…so not sure what happened! I’ve got it up now and put it on my front page (in my About Me section–hopefully I don’t get spammed!!). :) Now I should be pretty easy to find! I’ll have to play around with the widget this weekend when I have a little more time.

  16. *Nancy – It’s a subscription targeted to booksellers, etc. Nicola told me about it and I can’t remember the actual site but I bet if you google Shelf Awareness it will come up. I subscribed to the newsletter and sometimes there will be an ad for an ARC that sounds interesting. Definitely not as fancy as the author contacting you, though…

    *Samantha – It is very good! And thanks–feels great to check those challenge off the list!

  17. What a beautiful review, Trish! I hadn’t heard of this book before, but I’m definitely adding it to my wish mountain. I have NO doubt that I would learn so much from this one, and enjoy the experience as well. Thanks!

    And congrats! Wow…not just one, but two more down! Way to go!

  18. *Debi – It feels so great to finish those challenges–I think I have to read 2 or 3 for each challenge until I finish another one, though…

    This was a great book–at times it was a little tedious, especially at the beginning when it was heavy on the history, but I certainly did learn a lot!

  19. Sounds like an interesting book. I always find books about people searching for information about their families fascinating. And I eat up books about different cultures and immigration issues. Usually I read fiction that deals with this topics, but I’m not opposed to nonfiction.

    (Sorry I’m a little late in responding to your post. I’m a little behind and sick so I’m catching up only slowly.)

    –Anna
    http://diaryofaneccentric.blogspot.com

  20. *Anna – Talk about late–I have had a bunch of comments in my inbox for over a month now that I’m just now responding to. This book sometimes reads like fiction–only a few places where the facts and history can get a little tiresome, but overall great book.

    *Joy – It always helps when the books are good!