Sunday, March 29, 2009

My Father's Paradise by Ariel Sabar

Title: My Father's Paradise**
Author: Ariel Sabar
ISBN: 9781565124905
Publisher: Algonquin Books/2008
Pages: 325

I had requested for this book from the publicist of the author and he was kind enough to send it to me. When I started to read this book, I couldn't put it down and did it at one go.

It is a memoir but works very well as a novel. It follows three cultures, three countries and four decaded before it concludes. A fascinating account.

Ariel Sabar's father Yona Sabar is a renowned professor at UCLA and is a well known linguist. Ariel thinks his father is weird and wishes to know nothing about him. The turning comes when Ariel gets married and has a son of his own. Then he has a sudden desire to know all about his father, his traditions and the cultural ethos. He and his father undertake a journey backwards, which started some forty years back.

Yona belongs to Zakho in Iraq, where Kurdish Jews lived for more than three thousand years. They lived peacefully alongside Christians and Muslims and spoke Aramaic, which was also spoken by Jesus. With no written script, it had survived by word of mouth. Yona could still speak it and was much sought after because of it.

Most Kurdish Jews had to leave Iraq in the 1950s for the newly created Israel, as many of them were attacked and killed in the post World War II. Yona was one of them, who rich past was wiped out in that exodus. He had belonged to the family of dyers who were rich and well respected. His grand-father used to pray all night in the tiny mud-hut synagoue and was well known for it.

Yona struggles to survive in Israel, studying in night school, working in the day time. He finally decides to live for US to better himself. Uprooted twice from familiar grounds, he retreats into himself, witholding his culture within himself. When father and son venture out, Ariel learns a lot about his father's Kurdish background and is awed by it.

This book takes us into an unknown world of mystic men, rich cultural ethos, the trials of immigration, assmilating it with the present. Love and traditions are at conflict, yet to be a part of such a rich heritage finally makes Ariel understand his father. It is his legacy for his sons too. Ariel Sabar's writing is very beautiful, engrossing and his awe for the Kurdish Jews comes through.

I recommend this for all those who wish to know about ancient cultures, and their struggles for survival in the present world. It also tells us so much about places, we don't know anything about.