Vinod Kurup

Hospitalist/programmer in search of the meaning of life

Apr 14, 2024 - 3 minute read - Comments - book-review

My Father's Paradise

Title: My Father’s Paradise by Ariel Sabar

Subtitle: A Son’s Search for His Family’s Past

Why: A co-worker recommended it, and is related to the author, thus making the book a family history for him (how cool is that!)

Review: I learned a lot of history that I sadly had been clueless about before reading this book. I never knew that there was a significant Jewish population in Iraq, nor that they lived relatively harmoniously with Muslims and Christians there for hundreds of years. I didn’t know about the semi-forced migration of Jews from Arab countries to the newly formed Israel after World War II and the dire circumstances surrounding such migration. I didn’t know that there was a social hierarchy between European/Ashkenazi Jews and Arabic Jews, and another hierarchy with Arab Jews depending on if you were Baghdadi or Kurdish, for example. The story is written by a 50-ish year old journalist who investigates his family history starting with his great grandfather in Kurdistan (Iraq). It details the forced migration that his father endured from Iraq to Israel at the age of 13, and all of the struggles that come from coming of age in a new strange place. Eventually it continues to his father’s migration to the US, and to the author being born and turning into the most annoying teenage rebel, wanting nothing to do with his family’s heritage. And then, of course, that rebel grows up, sees the error of his ways and then uses his newfound journalistic skills to turn his families stories into a proper history.

The book is very well written and engages you from beginning to end. This is not a textbook, but rather a fireside story. I was furious at the childishness of the author for rebelling against his parents in such a disrespectful way, but I think most of my fury was actually directed at myself for having similar tendencies and feelings, though I kept them mostly bottled up inside of me. I identified strongly with the immigrant story as it is nearly identical to mine, though my parents came from a different country and were fortunate to make the choice to leave their homeland willingly. But I know they suffered mightily to do so, leaving one home, and landing in a place that never could be anything but a second home, one that doesn’t quite ever feel like home.

This quote could have been written about my childhood:

My father would hand me the phone on my visits home to Los Angeles, and I would listen as a stream of Aramaic blessings crossed ten time zones along a crackling telephone line. My father would pass me the receiver and whispher, “Just say amen every so often. It will make her feel good.” I said my amens and returned to my life.

I’m envious and impressed by Sabar’s work in documenting his family history, as I have never taken the time or energy to do anything similar with my own. I’m now an American through and through, and I’m OK with that, but I wish I could have passed more appreciation of our culture on to my kids. Hopefully they will eventually get curious and learn on their own, but more likely I’ve just accelerated a path to distancing future generations from our homeland. Anyways, that is all a digression from the story, though to be honest, it is the central tenet of the book. I’m really glad that I read this one.

CivilWarLand in Bad Decline Links 2024-04-15

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