In his debut book My Father’s Paradise, award-winning journalist and author Ariel Sabar takes us on a journey into one of the oldest and most remote corners of the Jewish Diaspora: Kurdish Iraq. His father, Yona Sabar, was born to an illiterate mother in a mud hut in the hills of northern Iraq, where Jews were so cut off from the rest of the world that they still spoke Aramaic, the 3,000-year-old language of Jesus. Yona was the last boy bar-mitzvahed in his town before the mass exodus of Jews from Iraq in the early 1950s. Like many Jews from Muslim lands, Yona’s family battled poverty and prejudice in the new state of Israel. But Yona’s deeply personal attachment to his dying mother tongue would eventually win him a full scholarship to Yale University and a faculty job at UCLA. Professor Sabar is today regarded as one of the world’s foremost experts on Aramaic. Trying to grow up cool in 1980s Los Angeles, Ariel rejected his odd-looking, funny-talking father. But after having a son of his own, Ariel set out to discover his father’s story – and his own.
Populated by Kurdish chieftains, trailblazing linguists, Arab nomads, and devout believers, My Father’s Paradise, winner of the 2008 National Book Critics Circle Award for Autobiography, is a stirring tale of hope and redemption in an Iraq very different from the one in the headlines today.
Paradise Lost and Found: The Story behind My Father’s Paradise
Growing up in materialistic 1980s Los Angeles, Ariel wanted nothing to do with his father. He saw Yona Sabar as a stone-age relic, a walking fashion tragedy who couldn’t get his clothes to match and refused to see a barber about his out-of-control, Einstein-like hair. Then Ariel had his own son, and everything changed. In his marquee speech, Ariel weaves the remarkable story of the Kurdish Jews and Aramaic with the moving tale of how a consummate California kid came to write a book about his family’s Kurdish roots.
Ariel Sabar covered the 2008 presidential campaigns for The Christian Science Monitor and is an award-winning former staff writer for the Baltimore Sun and the Providence (RI) Journal. His work has also appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Monthly, and many other publications.
Ariel’s first book, My Father’s Paradise: A Son’s Search for His Family’s Past, won the prestigious National Book Critics Circle Award for Autobiography and was a finalist for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize. It was a Philadelphia Inquirer “staff pick,” a San Francisco Chronicle bestseller, a Christian Science Monitor “Best Nonfiction Book of 2008,” and an Elle magazine Readers Prize Selection. It also won the Rodda Book Award, given by the Church and Synagogue Library Association once every three years to the adult book that best “exhibits excellence in writing and has contributed significantly to congregational libraries through promotion of spiritual growth.” No fewer than five major Jewish communities – Philadelphia, Baltimore, Minneapolis-Saint Paul, Denver, and Long Island – selected it as their annual community read.